This week’s Irish Blogger Gathering is brought to us by OC Domer – a Notre Dame blogger subjected to USC much more than most of us. Be sure to check out his responses to these questions with the link above and see my responses below.
1. Notre Dame played perhaps its best game of the year in a win over the Utah Utes two weeks ago. Utah remains ranked at #23 in the Associated Press poll. Notre Dame likewise took Michigan State (AP #11) to overtime before losing on a fake field goal. Therefore the Irish should have no trouble with this unranked Trojan squad. Agree or disagree? Show your work.
The transitive property of wins and losses never holds true in college football – especially in the case of a rivalry game like Notre Dame-USC. That doesn’t taken into account USC’s recent dominance of the series either and despite their lack of a top 25 ranking this year, the Trojans are still a very solid football team with playmakers on both sides of the ball.
USC’s record might not be what most Trojan fans became accustomed to under Pete Carroll, but USC has played some very good football teams tough. They took Stanford down to the wire and hung with Oregon for about three quarters until their lack of depth caught up to them and the Ducks ran away with it.
At the same time, USC was hanging by a thread for a couple of weeks before getting blown out by Oregon State last weekend. Three weeks ago they squeaked by Arizona State and two weeks ago hung on to a three point win over Arizona.
The X-factor here is what USC team shows up? The one that played Stanford and Oregon tough or the one that got blown out by Oregon State and doesn’t have a chance to play in a bowl game because of USC’s probation? The lack of a bowl game can work for or against the Irish here. On one hand, they could treat the Notre Dame game as their bowl game while on the other they could be lacking motivation after last week.
Bottom line – this year’s game is about as unpredictable as any Notre Dame – USC game in recent memory.
2. It is almost time for the OC Domer Player of the Year to be named. This award is intended to recognize the Notre Dame football player or players who played the best when it mattered the most. Suffice it to say that the primary criterion is a consistently high level of play, with significant bonus points awarded for exceeding expectations. Injuries have taken many of the pre-season favorites for this prestigious award out of the running. Who is your nominee for this award, and why?
The offense has been too inconsistent and injured this year for the award to reside on that side of the ball so I’ll turn my attention to defense where I see three candidates – Manti Te’o, Gary Gray, and Harrison Smith. Te’o is the most obvious choice because of his tackle totals and his big hits, but Gray and Smith both deserve some serious consideration. Gray has been as close to a shutdown corner as Notre Dame has had in years. He doesn’t have a lot of interceptions because teams just have not been targeting him in the passing game.
Harrison Smith meanwhile might be the most improved player on the team. Smith is tied for the team lead in interceptions with 3 and ranks second on the team in tackles behind Te’o. He’s a completely different player than the one we’ve seen bounced around between linebacker and safety the last two years and he’s just starting to play his best football.
At the end of the day, I’d give it to Te’o, but with Gray and Smith both back for the Irish next year, the secondary should be in fine shape.
Side note – If Ian Williams had stayed healthy all season, he’d be the hands down winner here.
3. With a delicate flavor similar to beef, though slightly sweeter than other meats, horse meat can be used to replace beef, pork, mutton, and any other meat in virtually any recipe, though most aficionados prefer it in marinated or spicy dishes. Nutritionally, horse meat has around 40 percent fewer calories than the leanest beef, while supplying 50 percent more protein and as much as 30 percent more iron; and horse fat is considered an excellent health-conscious deep-frying alternative, especially for delicately-flavored foods that are easily overpowered by heavier oils. What is your favorite horse meat recipe?
Ummm…. I got nothing here.
4. Do you miss Pat Haden, who left the Notre Dame television broadcasts to become athletic director at USC?
I don’t miss Haden in the booth at all. Mayock has been a much better color commentator because of his understanding of the game. I could have done with him saying “Bobby Diaco” as many times as he has all season, but he’s been much easier to listen to than Haden.
Now, if only there was something we could do about getting the guy sitting next to Mayock replaced.
5. USC is the Notre Dame rival I love to hate. What Notre Dame rival do you most despise, and why?
Until the Pete Carroll Era at USC, I never had many ill feelings towards USC since the Trojans were Notre Dame’s oldest rival. The Carroll Era changed that, but mainly because of the beatings his squads dealt out to the Irish over the last 8 years. With Lane Kiffin’s polarizing personality roaming the Southern Cal sidelines now, it’s probably going to be even easier to hate the Trojans.
All of that said, Michigan is still the Notre Dame rival I despise the most. Many people tend to forget that Michigan and Fielding Yost went out of their way to try and derail the Notre Dame football program before it ever got off the ground. Back in the early days of Notre Dame football, Michigan was also instrumental in keeping the Irish out of the Western Conference (now the Big 10). Throw in Bo Schembechler’s “to hell with Notre Dame” and it’s a lot easier to hate Michigan than USC.
6. Reggie Bush got a car, his parents a house. Rumors of Cam Newton’s dad seeking money for his sons services aren’t going away. Can Notre Dame compete for athletic recruits in this environment? Or do you believe these incidents are the exceptions to an otherwise clean recruiting landscape?
Of course Notre Dame can complete for recruits in this environment. As recently as three years ago Notre Dame had the 2nd best recruiting class in the country according to most recruiting services after one of the worst seasons in Notre Dame history. While Charlie Weis’s recruiting classes had some glaring holes in them from year to year (usually along the defensive line and defensive backfield), he showed that Notre Dame can compete for elite prospects with all of the other major powers in college football.
Notre Dame’s biggest problem in recruiting has had less to do with the weather in South Bend, the academic standards at Notre Dame, or any improprieties at other universities and more to do with the product on the field. Until Notre Dame starts playing consistently well on both sides of the ball, there will be struggles in recruiting in some form or another. Even when Weis was signing top 10 classes, the holes that existed came in areas where Notre Dame struggled. It was no coincidence that the Irish had little trouble signing quarterbacks and wide receivers with Weis in charge but struggled landing elite defensive prospects.
If Brian Kelly can right the ship and point the Irish in the right direction, recruiting will take care of itself. Kelly and staff have shown that they can recruit with the big boys already. If they back it up with W’s, Notre Dame will just fine in recruiting.
Side note – one of the old staff’s biggest problems in recruiting was relying on stars and rankings and not focusing on getting great athletes. Oregon doesn’t make a lot of waves in recruiting, but they have great athletes and coach them up. If Kelly can do that as well while backing it up with wins, the Irish will not have some of the talent ad depth issues that have been a problem in the past.