Friday, August 31, 2007

the Roundtable Inside My Head | by Pete

Wake up. Oh, jeez, it's Friday. That's good. TGIF and all that. Hold on, it's FRIDAY! As in the day before Saturday, and this Saturday is THAT Saturday! Notre Dame Football is back! Is it too soon to call in sick? Is it too late to call in dead? I need to throw some sausages onto my "Return to Glory" fueled Hibachi, throw a couple beanbags, and enjoy a few adult beverages. It's football season.

Hold on, one second. I know you're excited for football season to start, but this year, it's not necessarily going to be the salad days of the last couple years. Charlie's still driving the bus, but haven't you noticed the passengers have changed quite a bit? All-American receiver and a more-than-capable counterpart? Gone. Leading rusher with great hands and pass-blocking skills? Gone. Oh, and that Heisman candidate, first-round draft pick, tough as nails quarterback? Gone. I hope you plan on stretching Saturday morning, because we could be seeing some serious growing pains this year.

I know we lost a lot from last year, and it's easy to see those guys as irreplaceable. But we've got to trust in Charlie on this one. We know he's a great coach, and the players he's recruited are finally getting old enough to start to contribute. Sure, we're inexperienced, but I think we're talented enough to hang with just about anybody.

Talent's one thing, getting the chance to develop that talent is another. You better hope that training camp was a hell of a learning experience, because these young guys get exactly zero time to get up to big time college football game speed. As if starting against Georgia Tech, a team that gave our experienced squad fits last year, isn't bad enough, how about consecutive road trips to Happy Valley and the Big House? This isn't a learning curve, it's Everest in moonboots. Oh, but then we finally get some relief: a Michigan State team that consistently takes us to the brink, and a Purdue team that nearly circumnavigated the globe against our secondary. And then it's that easygoing stretch of Top 10 UCLA, experienced thorn Boston College, and oh boy oh boy, the University of Southern California, the team that chews up quarterbacks and excretes points. We could be looking at a donut for a record until we finally reach some cupcakes.

Sure, the schedule isn't ideal, but Notre Dame has always relished a challenge. And once again, Charlie knows that's it's an immediately rough road, and we've gotta think he's prepared the team for that. Inexperience is something we have to deal with, but how much that inexperience affects the team depends on how well they've been prepared, and you know they've gotten some of the best prep a coach can offer. The days of the team losing games to teams with less talent (that means most on our schedule) are over now that Charlie's at the helm. And as for that flammable secondary? I don't know if you noticed, but there's a new defensive coordinator in town. Bad, bad Corwin Brown.

I know, I know, "Baddest man in the whole damn town." Save it for at least a few weeks, OK? I'll give you that the guy seems to be attracting some great recruits, but from an objective perspective, here's what we know: 1. He hasn't coached a down of football for the Irish yet, so while we're happy with him as a recruiter, we don't know anything about him as a coach. And 2. He's never been a defensive coordinator. Expecting Corwin Brown to instantaneously turn this colander into a cheese grater overnight is rapidly approaching delusional. He's a complete unknown.

So you're saying we shouldn't start making the mold for his statue outside the stadium yet? I know he's an unknown, but an unknown is infinitely better to what we used to know about this defense. Under the last coordinator, we knew we would have a poor pass rush, we knew the secondary would have trouble covering the long ball, and we knew that we would have to hang 50 points to keep up with an elite team. I'll gladly take not knowing a thing over knowing we could expect more of that any day. The problems in the program are being identified and being diligently fixed. You can't ask for anything else when you're looking for a reason to hope.

Even if he does prove to be the Patron Saint of Hurry-Ups, he better do it quick. Brady Quinn was the absolute cornerstone of this team four years. You have to admit that if there was anybody else under center last year, and I mean anybody, there were two more games Notre Dame would have definitely lost, and probably more. You can't expect to jump from a Heisman candidate, four-year-starter to a guy who AT BEST has thrown two passes, and not miss a beat, can you?

Brady was invaluable to the team the last few years, but the guys behind him are not exactly slouches. Hell, the guy who people think is the BORING pick, Sharpley, was a four-star rated recruit and sought after by plenty of the big boys. Then you've got Clausen, and if you're not happy with him on your roster, I don't know how to please you. And if the rumors are true and Jones is the starter, then you've gotta think Charlie is up all night dreaming of ways to use his playmaking ability. Throw in a green but overall bigger and talented offensive line, and there's no reason to think that if these guys meet their potential, our offense can't continue to be very good this year.

Yeah, or the brutal schedule eviscerates our young team, killing any confidence they have and forcing everyone into group therapy. It's really an all or none deal as far as I'm concerned; we open firing on all cylinders, playing perfectly, and yea, sure we can beat some of these guys. BUT if things go as they tend to go for nearly every sports team on the planet, a young team is going to need some time to get into a rhythm, which means they should be playing good football, oh, by about Navy. Thank God, just in time.

If you're such an expert, let's hear your predictions. Put your money where your mouth is, smart guy.

Here's how I see it: the Georgia Tech game is a loss. It should be a win, but the fact that there is zero warmup time for the team means they lose a close one. Penn State: second game, on the road in a stadium that's been prepping for us all year, and a relatively experienced team? Don't like our odds there. Michigan: their stadium, offense that torched us last year still intact, gimme another L. Michigan State? We should beat them, but stranger things have happened against them. Purdue? Same. UCLA? Once again, on the road, experienced team against our young'uns. Are you noticing a pattern here? BC: Perfectly located on the schedule (for them), sandwiched between a West Coast jaunt against a good team and the biggest game of the year. Oh, and they're experienced, with one of the better quarterbacks out there this year. Perfect upset fodder. USC? Best we're hoping for is competitive. The rest are jokes. The way I see it, a .500 record would exceed expectations.

It's tough, but I don't think it's THAT tough. Georgia Tech: lost the best wide receiver in the country last year, breaking in a new quarterback too, we're more talented and at home. Penn State: we smoked them last year, Corwin's defense baffles Morelli, and we win going away to shock everyone. Michigan: remember the last time an underrated ND team went to the Big House? I smell deja vu. Michigan State: New coach + no Stanton = win. Purdue: Weis's dominance of PU continues. UCLA: I think they're overrated, and by now, this inexperienced team has some great games under its belt. A toss-up, but ND's got a good chance. Boston College? New coach, new offense, we're better, it's at home. Win. USC? I'm going to say we win, because you always gotta believe we can beat those guys, you gotta. And the rest are jokes, in a good sense. At worst we go 8-4, but, and even I think I'm crazy for thinking this, but it's not impossible that we could do some very special things this year.

Okay, now I know you're either high, drunk, or insane. Probably a sick combination of all three. But you know what's great about it all?

What's that?

As fans, we don't have to worry about this stuff. We just get to watch the games, support the team, and see what happens.

It's a beautiful thing, Pessimistic Outlook in my Brain. Let's go tailgatin'.

Lemme borrow your keys. No better way to start your morning than with an 8 AM shotgun.