Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Lou Holtz.
I loved him as head coach, I love his books, I love him on ESPN, and I even love him as a possible candidate for Florida’s 24th congressional district. Let me state categorically from the outset that I am full-fledged Holtzian in all things.
I just wish he wouldn’t have said what he said.
Within minutes of Lou’s now infamous prediction on Sportscenter that, in fact, it will be the Irish who will be playing the Florida Gators in the BCS National Championship game this season, the fandom blogosphere was atwitter with rage. Well, maybe not rage per se, but certainly mocking incredulity, an incredulity that Irish fans must now shoulder every week as we boldly stand by our predictions of great things in 2009.
To be sure, I completely understand the logic. After all, Notre Dame has the dual advantage this season of a relatively weak schedule and that benefit of the doubt that we tend to garner in the polls (oh, just admit it), twin forces that appear poised to propel the Irish to a January bowl.
But am I the only one among us that stares daily at this supposedly cream-puff schedule and finds things to worry about?
True, I tend to be a pessimist by nature. Generally, I use my pessimism as a defense mechanism so that any good stuff comes as a pleasant surprise and the bad stuff merely confirms my already low expectations. Try it; it’s actually not a bad way to live.
When it comes to the Irish it seems that this bleak outlook is only intensified. Mind you, I absolutely didn’t anticipate the Syracuse and Boston College debacles last year, but let’s just say that back in the day when that notorious underselling Coach Holtz (as opposed to cheery and hopeful Prognosticator Holtz) used to play down our chances against a Navy or a Rutgers I believed him.
With that in mind, I sat down with my most critical, fearful, distrustful, and end-of-the-world mindset and realized that there are, in fact, three games this season that give me pause.
September 5, vs. Nevada
The season opener. The great unknown. Colin Flippin’ Kaepernick.
Don’t be surprised if the Nevada Wolf Pack, our first “easy win” of the season, finish as WAC champions this year.
That’s right, our season kick-off is with a team that behind eight returning starters on a unique, difficult to defend, pass-happy offense, led by an underrated junior
dual-threat quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, will likely be the champions of a conference that is now better than the Big East. Don’t believe me? Track down a high-res copy of Nevada’s last game, a seven-point loss to Maryland in the Humanitarian Bowl. That’s Nevada moving the ball at will. That’s Kaepernick throwing for nearly 400 yards on a sore ankle. That’s him receiving the game MVP award. This is me feeling sick.
If the Notre Dame defensive secondary isn’t at the top of its collective game this Saturday expect a long hard afternoon.
October 17, vs. USC
I know that most of you are thinking, well, yeah, when was the last time USC didn’t scare you? But I am flabbergasted at how many of my fellow Irish fans are almost offhandedly putting this one in the win column without even flinching.
True, the Trojans will come into South Bend with a freshman quarterback, two new coordinators, and missing their best receiver (collarbone) and cornerback (academics), but why is Pete Carroll still grinning like that?
Well, maybe it’s because he knows something that the Notre Dame Nation doesn’t, namely, that USC is still loaded, they’re still well coached, and Matt Barkley just might be the best USC quarterback since Carson Palmer. Of course, the Notre Dame defense may never even get to see Barkley in action since he’ll be passing from behind an offensive line that is likely the best in the country.
The Trojan defense is young but still the type of scary that makes me look away from the television. NFL scary. Throw away from Taylor Mays, Jimmy. Throw away from him.
November 28, at Stanford
It’s a night game and the Irish will be in white jerseys. That rarely bodes well.
Jim Harbaugh has his veteran team heading in the right direction and this is the kind of final game of the regular season that could trip up the Irish if they’re already busy making hotel reservations for Pasadena.
Remember the faces of the Trojan coeds in the crowd as the second ticked down to a Cardinal upset two seasons ago? Yeah, I don’t want that.
Expect the Cardinal to pound Toby Gerhart behind an excellent offensive line and keep the Irish offense off the field entirely. That’s the thing that kills you against a team like Stanford: time of possession. The tragically underestimated Tavita Pritchard is probably the quarterback in Palo Alto come November and I have this sinking feeling that Stanford will be playing for their bowl lives in this game.
Anyone else think we might play hare to their tortoise?