Who do you Trust?
"And now, folks, it's time for, "Who do you trust!" Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust? Me? I'm giving away free money. And where is the Batman? HE'S AT HOME WASHING HIS TIGHTS!"
Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Batman
I know, grammatically it's "Whom do you trust". Nicholson didn't help me out here.
But it's a question I've been wondering as we get down to the nitty gritty in this football season. Prognostications abound, and here at NDN we have our own Heatmiser and Snowmiser with differing views on how the season should/will go.
First kick is just over 48 hours away as I type, so it's time to get off the fence. And for me, it comes down to a question of trust.
Notre Dame wasn't as good as its record last year, which is a scary thought. But it also was better than its record last year, which is cause for optimism. But in the end, as Charlie Weis would say, they were what their record said they were: a 3-9 team.
Did they have the talent to finish 3-9? No. I believe they had the talent to finish 6-6. They had no business losing to Navy under any circumstances, and Air Force and BC should have been wins. I also believe the lopsided scores of some games were also not consistent with the talent ND had on the field, young and raw as it may have been.
ND finished 3-9 instead of 6-6 and got its doors blown off in a couple games because Charlie Weis and his staff did a crappy job last season. He took an inexperienced team and tried to go the cutesy route, playing with personnel and schemes instead of establishing bread-and-butter plays ND could use to its advantage.
So as we look to the next season, it comes down to trust: Do I trust Charlie Weis learned from his mistakes and is going to be a better coach this season?
My answer to that question is yes.
People say it's crazy to expect a 3-win team to win 10 games the next season. It's unprecedented. My reply is so was the drop ND experienced between 2006 and 2007. When unusual circumstances (poor and small senior class, bad coaching decisions) create an unusual down, resolving them can create an unusual up.
CW did a lot of things that surprised me in the offseason, but none more than his 25-person pilgrimage. According to reports on and off campus, Charlie went to 25 people whose opinions he values, including people like Fr. Ted Hesburgh and Ara Parseghian, and asked for a no-holds-barred candid critique of himself and his program. Coming from a "Jersey tough" guy who had a habit of telling you your opinion when he wanted to hear it, this was quite a departure from the norm and told me things weren't business as usual in the Gug these last couple of months.
He also did a number of things people have been clamoring for since he arrived. He adopted a more approachable attitude, with players and staff alike. He made himself more available to alumni. He even decided to trust his staff more, allocating play-calling duties to OC Mike Haywood.
This isn't your father's Charlie Weis. Does this mean he's still not prickly sometimes? No, but it's not all the time now either. And as a result, a couple of people who weren't high on the prospects for his career at Notre Dame have done a 180 on him and now believe, as one of the 25 said after meeting with him, "he's gonna be all right".
So my prediction for the season? We're gonna be all right. To wit:
SDSU -- BIG WIN. Please. If this one's wrong, we're doomed.
MICHIGAN -- NARROW WIN. Even when the Wolverines are down, they're dangerous to ND.
at MICHIGAN STATE -- NARROW WIN. The road-team streak in the series continues.
PURDUE -- COMFORTABLE WIN. Wilford goes out on a sour note.
STANFORD -- NARROW WIN. The Cardinal are better than you think under Jim Harbaugh, who Michigan should have hired instead of Rodriguez (and may yet after he flames out).
at NORTH CAROLINA -- NARROW LOSS. Butch Davis starts to make his presence felt in Chapel Hill.
at WASHINGTON -- BIG WIN. I've got $10 that says Tyrone Willingham won't be the head coach at WA when this game is played.
PITTSBURGH -- BIG WIN. Another $10 says Wannie won't be there either.
at BC -- COMFORTABLE WIN. The Eagles don't have the horses this year, and the Irish are pissed.
at NAVY -- BIG WIN. This isn't Paul Johnson's Midshipmen anymore.
SYRACUSE -- BIG WIN. $10 here too. It says something about ND's schedule this year that three of its opponents' head coaches might be fired by the time the Fighting Irish play them.
at SOUTHERN CAL -- NARROW LOSS. Can't quite get it done this year. Next year in South Bend ... look out, Snoopy.
10-2 will be enough for the Cotton Bowl, where the Irish will break their bowl losing streak and be among the favorites to win a national title in 2009.