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7.30 - Disengenuous or Not Bright?

I turn over the forum to ndoldtown's response to the unprofessional attempts by the South Bend Tribune to stir controversy this past week. One of the authors, Jeff Carroll, attempted to deflect the blame from his unbalanced, needlessly provocative and factually bereft attack series by trying to make it seem that readers were upset with the author cited in the last article, Ellen Staurowsky. Nothing could be further from the truth. Staurowsky makes many good points that are respected by most of the athletic community, but she was used, presented out of context and, negligently, without balance or disclosure. Tenets of journalism most high schoolers would never breach.

ndoldtown, responds:

The citation to Staurowsky -- who is entitled to her opinion -- reveals not that Staurowsky is wrong or should not be heard. Instead it reveals the intellectual incoherence of Carroll's series.

The series was supposed to be about the recruiting of Clausen, as its use of the teenager's name in the headline for days in a row seems to indicate. Despite much huffing and puffing and prominent use of Clausen's name and image, along with negative implications about his personality and character, Carroll and his co-author come up with nothing -- zero -- bupkus -- to indicate that ANYTHING was done contrary to NCAA rules in the recruitment of Clausen. The article teases with much innuendo on that front ("will a sting follow buzz"? comparison of Clausen to drug user Todd Marinovich and mention of scandals involving payement of players at UCLA and Michigan -- all heaped under a series headlined with Clausen's name. A cynical person might imagine Carroll was trying to smear Clausen by unwarranted association with every bad thing he could think of in college sports over the last twenty years.)

In any event, after much build-up, Carroll and colleague chicken out by failing to offer any definitive guidance or conclusion on whether the kid who started this whole torrent of articles or the school recruiting him were involved in anything wrong. Where is the conclusion whether ND did anything wrong in "The Courting Of Jimmy Clausen"? Here is all you get: "At this stage, there is no evidence that Weis or Notre Dame were involved with anything that could be construed as an NCAA violation." Talk about skirting the issue.

Carroll cites no authority on NCAA rules regarding WHETHER, given the facts he posits in his article, ND did anything wrong in Clausen's recruitment. Perhaps because any direct quote from an authority on the subject would unambiguously indicate that Notre Dame did nothing wrong. While his readers are waiting for some reasonable research, quote or citation to authority or an expert source about whether the conduct he outlines in the article violated any rules, Carroll switches gears.

THEN, the series unveils, as it mercifully chugs to its last installment, Ms. Staurowsky, who is someone who simply is against NCAA football, period. She is against scholarships for athletes and thinks schools should deemphasize football. Again, while Staurowsky is entitled to that opinion, I don't understand how that links up with where this article seemed to be going when it started out. Staurowsky is not an authority on NCAA rules and does not say or indicate that she has examined the facts of Clausen's recruitment to determine whether any NCAA rules were violated.

If I wanted to write an article about whether America has violated the Rules of War in Iraq, I might like some input and citations to Colin Powell or a military man versed in those issues. If I wanted a dissertation about why war is illegitimate to begin with and should never be waged, I might want a theologian or philosopher. But I would not start with a viewpoint on the one topic, leave it unresolved and then seek authorization for the viewpoint from a source with no knowledge in the area. It betrays confusion on the part of the authors or -- worse -- a desire to simply print an all-purpose negative piece on Notre Dame football under Weis without having the courage or honesty to fully and diligently research, source and conclude.

Notably, the article was not entitled "Why Notre Dame Should Drop Scholarship Football". It had Clausen's name in the title and implied throughout that somehow something wrong had been done in his recruitment under the now-existing rules by which Notre Dame has certified it will play. Nor does Carroll reveal to his readers the extent or nature of Staurowsky's agenda. Instead, he leaves his papier mache indictment of the Clausen recruitment out there unsupported, but disingenuously propped up for the unknowing by citation to Ms. Staurowsky, someone who knows nothing about that recruitment or the rules under which it was conducted.

If, on the other (third?) hand, Carroll's point is along the lines of "I cant find anything wrong under the rules with how Clausen was recruited, but it left me feeling queasy and wondering whether it would be better to just drop football than to engage in what I consider unseemly, hucksterish behavior by Notre Dame and Ms Staurowsky agrees with me that scholarship football stinks," then an honest statement of this theme would have been appropriate.

And if this really is the Carroll argument, then he might want to do a little bit more reseach about Notre Dame before he concludes that Charlie Weis is an unseemly and hucksterish departure from Notre Dame's past and examine another huckster named Knute Rockne, who had players propped up on horses not Hummers for the sake of a publicity photo and who regularly conned, schmoozed and schmaltzed both the media and his own players.

It is a painful but persistent fact we all must come to deal with as adults: Great people who do much good as well as great institutions which do great good often crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Indeed, with a little bit more research on the program about which you are writing, Mr. Carroll, you might have found that Notre Dame has always been a program interested in winning and showmanship and schmaltz and publicity to the extent it can be useful (first nationwide radio network, tc network, mobies authorized and prmoted by the school etc, all done before anybody heard of Weis). That Notre Dame has engaged in such promotion, buzz and hucksterism while compiling matchless graduation records for its student athletes may take some of the edge off of that disturbing fact. In any event, I am sorry to shatter so many of Mr. Carroll's illusions by revealing this ongoing gambling in Casablanca. In other disturbing facts, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, FDR lied to the public about his polio and JFK had multiple affairs. Sometimes the ugliness of life makes me wonder whether we should go on in a world that always fails to live up to my high ideals.

Speaking as a Notre Dame graduate, I find Mr. Carroll's tendentious lecture as to how "alumni of a top twenty university" are supposed to react to his mediocre journalism to be patronizing and self-serving. Believe me, sir, Notre Dame alumni and faculty have had on an ongoing and regular basis, much more probing, intellectually invigorating and unsparingly critical discussions and disputes over the role of football in the academy and the merits and demerits of deemphasis than that contained in your "junior varsity" article. Believe me further, such discussion and examinations have also been conducted without unnecessarily and opportunistically exploiting the privacy and reputation of a teenager.

By the way, regarding the assertion that Ms. Staurowsky deserves a "platform" and how disappointed Mr. Carroll is in Notre Dame alumni for not wanting to hear from her, I hasten to point out that Ms. Staurowsky was given a quite literal platform AT NOTRE DAME. She spoke for over an hour and was able to expound at much greater length and with greater subtlety and depth I woudl imagine than the few quotes in Mr. Carroll's article. I doubt anyone at Notre Dame wants to squelch her viewpoint fiben the invitation to her to speak on our campus. I suspect that people are more disturbed by the unprofessional use of an incoming student as a prop for a poorly-done and hurtful series of articles.

Let me conclude by noting that perhaps a better writer would not need to so extensively explain post-hoc exactly what he meant or create a straw-man defense of one of his sources to cloak his own shortcomings. In the meantime, although we do come from a Catholic school, we only recognize one voice ex cathedra. so please spare us further pontifications as to how we are supposed to react to your journalistic efforts.

P.S. I will do no more than note the incredibly amateur, indeed embarrassing, Google trick regarding Notre Dame being like everyone else. Real Walter Lippmann stuff there.

ndoldtown

7.27 - Deconstructing a Smear Campaign

The South Bend Tribune continued its series of articles aimed at casting Charlie Weis, Notre Dame and top recruit Jimmy Clausen in a negative light. Without any evidence, the SBT has embarked on a strategy of guilt by lack of association.

Its technique is to bring up something about the above triumvirate, find some commonality, however tenuous, between them and something that could have gone wrong or has the appearance of being wrong, then bunch them together in an attempt to smear Notre Dame and Coach Weis.

Today the South Bend Tribune managed to publish two stories with no context, limited and inapplicable facts, no attempt at balance whatsoever and an egregious omission that should be grounds for terminating both "reporters."

Quite the statement you say. Read on McDuff.

Let's begin with the article entitled, "Pragmatic Approach: Can ND maintain principles and athletic dominance?" A worthy subject on its surface, but this article is not about athletics; this article is solely about football. The headline is a set-up.

The authors, Jeff Carroll and Bob Wieneke, broaden the reach to athletics in order to bring in quotes from Ellen Staurowsky.

Who is she?

According to the SBT, "A former college athletic director who has written books critical of the commercialization of college sports, Ellen Staurowsky came to South Bend last year on her lecture circuit. With ND student-athletes in the audience, Staurowsky expressed her opinion that the economic dynamics of college sports are corrupting the educational aspect of universities."

Her claim to fame is a book she co-wrote entitled, "College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur Myth."

States one review, "This book strives to show that the NCAA formally abandoned amateurism and has passed rules that have transformed scholarship athletes into 'university employees.'"

According to Publishers Weekly, "They accuse the organization (the NCAA) of pretending to embrace amateurism while fighting for professionalism during the past half century; of helping colleges avoid suits by seriously injured athletes who were being used for financial gain; and of allowing schools to give athletic scholarships to students who were unqualified academically. The authors further charge the NCAA with sabotaging women's sports programs in an attempt "effectively to deny women equal educational opportunities."

Okay, first of all the scope of her book covers big time athletics in general, not football in particular, a significant point the SBT fails to mention. Second, her focus is how athletics corrupt the educational aspect of athletics, an area Notre Dame football is currently excelling in with record team GPAs.

According to the Library Journal, "A major theme of the book is Title IX and its effect on women' sports. The authors believe that it was a mixed blessing, providing women more access while forcing them into the competitive male model where education is incidental to athletics."

In sum, she has absolutely no personal expertise in major college football and believes all big time sports are essentially wrong and have been for a century.

A century.

By the turn of the century wrote Staurowsky and her co-author, sports were "evolving into an unrelated business of the university, and athletes were being relegated to the periphery of academic life."

Not that turn of the century six years ago, the one that took place 106 years ago.

What the SBT fails to disclose is that Staurowsky believes no sport that gives out scholarships is an amateur sport and that she specifically has an axe to grind for big time men's sports. Dr. Staurowsky is well known as an advocate for gender equity in athletics and women in sport media.

So here's a person who doesn't believe in college scholarships, thinks that big time men's sports infringe on women's sports, that even women's sports have become corrupted and the SBT decides she's the perfect person to give perspective on the negative effects a resurgence of Notre Dame football will have on the school.

This is the person they ask for perspective? It's like asking Rush Limbaugh about liberals or Al Franken about Bush.

Worse still, Staurowsky has no experience in the big time athletics she writes about. She was the athletic director at Ithaca flippin' College. Here's where the authors don't even make even the slightest effort at maintaining journalistic integrity.

Not only is the reader unaware of her conflicts, but the authors don't even attempt any balance. Gene Corrigan would have been a perfect person to provide balance, instead Wieneke and Carroll offer this: "One Irish female student-athlete in particular took exception to Staurowsky's thoughts, putting up a heated defense of both her school and her own academic diligence."

They don't tell us what the defense was.

They don't even name the person and do nothing to broaden the counter argument.

That's not just irresponsible and unprofessional, it's unethical.

Now here's where their argument really goes screwy.

Follow Staurowsky's logic and you would find that she thinks Notre Dame, even while playing under Willingham, was incapable of not compromising its ideals. So asking her whether Notre Dame can maintain its ideals while competing at the 'elite level' is inane. She doesn't believe it's possible, period. At any school. Yet the authors do so as if Notre Dame were treading into some uncharted and dangerous waters. Notre Dame's had decades of experience balancing academics and athletics and been consistently successful as demonstrated by its six AFCA awards (second only to Duke.) There's no question whether Notre Dame can do this, it's done it... well.

Unbelievably, Carroll and Wieneke throw that bucket of putrid mud at Notre Dame in the face of the very facts that belie their entire point.

"This past year, Notre Dame student-athletes logged a combined 3.226 grade-point average in the fall, a school record, then followed that with a 3.224 in the spring. ND athletes completed more than 2,300 hours of community service, an increase of 340 hours over the year before."

Notre Dame not only improved as a football team and kept to its ideals, but improved upon the criteria by which those ideals are judged. In other words, there was no reason to write this article except to smear ND.

The next part of this "article" is laughable. Our reporters offer this meaningless factoid as if it represents something nefarious: "A Google search for the phrases 'Notre Dame' and 'Just like everyone else' finds 11,700 matches. Another search, for 'tarnished dome,' returns 5,310 matches."

I'd expound, but that's just stupid.

A Rock reader responded thusly: "I thought you would be interested to know that a search for "South Bend Tribune" and "unprofessional" returned 14,200 hits on Google. A search for SBT and "Hack" returned a remarkable 131,000 hits. Wow, now I know that the SBT is a lousy paper."

But the worst is for last.

Later in the article, the authors introduce a former Notre Dame football player named Allen Sack, also a professor at the University of New Haven (Conn.). When asked about Weis Sack replied: "Is he going to sacrifice the academic standards? My opinion so far from the feedback I get is that he wants to win, he'll do what he has to do to win, but he's not going to cross the border." In other words, he doesn't believe ND will compromise to win.

Why does his opinion carry so much weight?

For one he played on the 1966 National Championship team.

Second, he's an expert on NCAA reform.

Third and the truly unbelievable omission worthy of firing a reporter or both, HE CO-WROTE THE BOOK WITH STAUROWSKY!

Did they think no one would notice?

The SBT not only doesn't mention that fact in the entire article, it takes his informed expert opinion and sticks it 36 PARAGRAPHS below those of his co-author, who makes the outrageous charge that Notre Dame will have to compromise its ideals.

Yet, it could have been immediately refuted at the top of the article and should have been if there were any attempt at balance.

Let that sink in for a second.

Feel sick? Me too.

Carroll and Wieneke also wrote an entire article questioning the practice of allowing early entry candidates without seeking one, not one, positive opinion (of which there are many) about the practice.

I could go into detail, but at this point, the SBT's smear campaign is self-evident. The irony that these authors are hypocritically using and inflating the very Clausen hype they're bashing can only be lost on the dullest of minds.

One wonders whether anyone with experience in journalism had oversight over this parade of unprofessional and unethical slam pieces.

Red Smith grieves.

~ The Rock

7.25 - Hack Journalism 101

If you read the recent South Bend Tribune hatchet job on Charlie Weis and recruit Jimmy Clausen and thought it was an unprofessional hack attack, you're not alone.

The SBT tossed journalistic ethics out of the basement window of its fourth estate office in a weekend temper tantrum masquerading as journalism. In an article entitled "Into the Gray" the SBT's own Saturday Night Live version of Woodward and Bernstein, Wieneke and Carroll, attempt to paint a portrait of school playing loose with NCAA rules.

The problem is that there's no there, there. No smoking gun. Not even a non-denial, denial. Just a whole bunch of things that could, 'possibly' be something if A, B, C and D ALSO happened. But they can't find A, B, C and D. They can't even find A. After writing a two part article dripping with innuendo and nothing near a violation, both of these writers conclude: "there is no evidence that Weis or Notre Dame were involved with anything that could be construed as an NCAA violation." In other words, there is no reason to write the article.

But they take it further still stating that allowing cameras on the sideline of the Blue and Gold game to follow Clausen, "is yet one more sign that the culture of Notre Dame football has changed drastically in just one year under Charlie Weis."

I must have missed all of the other signs, though I liked the movie very much.

I'll rephrase for them: 'ESPN got access and we didn't and we're upset.'

They followed up that winner two-parter by comparing Clausen to basketball players recruited by Michigan's infamous Ed Martin and everyone who ever broke a rule at USC. All situations that have nothing, zero to do with the Clausen commitment. The logic here seems to be that all hyped recruits are liable to end up breaking rules, developing a coke habit or taking money. Which is absurd if you've followed the Clausen recruitment. This kid isn't doing anything that could jeapordize his career.

Their logic is beyond infantile and the journalistic equivalent of pulling someone's hair to get attention. You have to wonder if the adults were home when this idea was conceived and executed.

Let's put some lipstick perspective on this pig of an article. College football recruiting is rife with payoffs, promises of assistance with grades and players who don't go to class at all. Here we're talking about a kid who, according to everybody who's dealt with him, has great character as well as ability and people are upset that he hired a PR firm and rented a Hummer. It's like getting upset at your child who goes to school with a bunch of drug users for eating a Twinkie.

In a recruiting world full of filth, there is none here. The worst you could say is that it's in bad taste. Get used to it. Here's the bottom line that Cheech and Chong don't grasp: you ain't seen nothing yet. The reason recruits receive as much exposure as they do is that the public wants it and is interested. Recruiting is a big deal and has huge interest.

The Clausen announcement was a very positive event for Notre Dame recruiting and the program in general. When the number one recruit in the country chooses Notre Dame after a decade of schlumpy coaching, that says a lot. The fact that ESPN covered extensively was a giant bonus for Notre Dame in the world of high school football player public opinion. I can only hope Notre Dame has such a ‘problem’ again in the near future. Joe Blow could have called a presser at the Hall of Fame for Michigan and rented a Hummer, but no one would have shown up. Notre Dame doesn't have the city life and the loose academics of other schools. What it does have is the ability to generate immense exposure and Notre Dame needs to maximize its advantages to compete a world of USC glam.

The very title of the article, "Into the Gray" is completely misleading. There is no gray as the SBT writers penned themselves very clearly. Again, there is no gray. They acknowledge that point, but then throw a bunch of seemingly negative pieces of information out there to make it seem like there 'could' be gray, IF...

Well, if the SBT wants to join together disparate points to attempt to paint a picture... I'll play, starting with this point: This series, written months after the date in question is nothing more than a spiteful mud throwing exercise aimed at trying to taint Weis and it doesn't contain one new fact. Not one.

Point Two: The SBT hasn't been granted some of the same access as national media and has an axe to grind.

Point Three: The SBT is now engaged in using its position as a journalistic outlet to get back at Weis for not being treated fairly.

Taking it further, I'll argue that if the SBT had been given better access, this non-article would have never been written.

It's not fair to characterize the South Bend Tribune that way without evidence you're probably thinking.

Point made.

Sometimes (most times) all media are not treated equal, but that is never supposed to affect an outlet's objectivity. That's the point where professionalism is supposed to triumph.

Unfortunately the SBT has jumped full on into the the mosh pit of hacks that they're supposed to be guarding their readers against by 'perpetrating' a factless drive-by shooting.

I just can't see Joe Doyle putting his name on such an article.

Remember there are three and only three tired storylines about Notre Dame football:

1 - The ressurection
2 - Notre Dame sold its soul for football glory
3 - Notre Dame can't win anymore because of academics, parity, the weather, the stars, etc.

We're quickly moving from stage one to stage two as Notre Dame's return happened faster than anyone imagined.

Speaking of hack stories, Charlie Weis wasted no time debunking a rag Sout Carolina reporter's story that Notre Dame was engaged in negative recruiting. The reporter was attempting to torpedo Notre Dame's recruitment of South Carolina cornerback Gary Gray by coercing last year's recruit and current South Carolina player Jamie Cumbie into saying Notre Dame used negative talk about him during his recruitment. Here's what that paper quoted Cumbie as saying: "They had a piece of paper, and it broke down advantages and disadvantages. It said Notre Dame was televised every weekend, every Saturday. Then they said Clemson has a horrible education."

Charlie fired back immediately, "I find it quite amusing a student-athlete already enrolled at another university has decided to be the team spokesman on Notre Dame recruiting practices," he said. "We do not use negative recruiting tactics. If supporting Notre Dame academics can be misconstrued as speaking down on another school's academics, call us guilty. This is an obvious case of negative reporting against Notre Dame by other institutions. Maybe they should look in the mirror."

The problems here is that the local South Carolina rag went fishing for a story. In other words it started out with a conclusion and went looking for evidence to fit that conclusion and it's obvious that paper got Cumbie to mischaracterize his recruitment and then went with the stumble rather than looking for the real story. Here's what Cumbie said on a Clemson site back in December 2005. "Cumbie, who did take a few unofficial visits to Notre Dame back in the spring, said he hasn't received a lot of contact from the Irish or other schools since his commitment."

After receiving public pressure as a result of the story, Cumbie cleared the air, something the paper could have done very quickly with just a 5th grade level of journalistic ethics. "I did not characterize our conversations properly," Cumbie said. "No one from Notre Dame, either in writing or in general conversation, said Clemson had a horrible education. Notre Dame made a comparison in different areas between the two schools, and the facts made Notre Dame look better. One of the areas was education. I am sure everyone makes comparisons during the recruiting process. It didn't bother me at all."

In other words, Charlie immediately dealt with negative innuendo and turned the story around effectively, which is exactly what was needed to be done. In this media climate, if you don't set the record straight, it will stay crooked, factless or not. If you don't pull weeds up by their roots they grow and fester. Finally someone has realized that at Notre Dame. If we caught on earlier perhaps the whole world would know that Kim Dunbar was only technically a booster via her 25 dollar donation at the quarterback luncheon. It was important to draw the distinction between the NCAA’s technical designation of Dunbar as a booster and an SEC Bubba Booster luring kids to schools and setting them up with cushy jobs or slipping them cash. Dunbar wasn't doing this to help Notre Dame football, Dunbar was trying to sleep with players. You wouldn’t have known this by the University’s non-response.

It's high time Notre Dame stuck up for itself rather than just take the high road and try to stay above the fray. That strategy doesn't work and hasn't for years.

In the meantime you, the reader, need to read with an eye toward motive. It shouldn't have to be that way, but as the South Bend Tribune proved again, it is.

My dad told me not to believe everything you read, but I sure would like to believe something I read.

I wonder what Grantland Rice would think.

7.11 - Irrational Exuberance?

So Notre Dame is a co-favorite with Ohio State to win the national championship, Brady Quinn is the Heisman favorite and Notre Dame grads are getting shut out of the ticket lottery since no one can remember when.

High times for ND football.

And about time.

We should have these expectations... every year. Every year Notre Dame should have a shot at the title. But even now, it's only a shot and a long one.

If the 5-1 Vegas odds are accurate they mean that Notre Dame has a 17% chance of winning the whole enchilada (or nacho grande in this case.) Understand that number's influenced by heavy betting on the Irish fueled by hype and the lack of a dominant team. Even TSN's Tom Dienhart has climbed on the Weis wagon:

Brady Quinn is the best quarterback in the nation. … The schedule is friendly. … Charlie Weis is Einstein with a headset. There, I said it. I'm on board. Here's another Golden Dome-sized scoop of hype for your tailgate, Touchdown Jesus: ND will win the national title. I can't believe I just typed that. But it's true.

If you average all of the preseason football rags Notre Dame is the composite number one pick according to Phil Steele:

1. Notre Dame 115
Eight offensive starters, nine defensive starters return from Charlie Weis' 9-3 turnaround team. Pencil in QB Brady Quinn for Heisman. The Irish face most tough opponents at home, but Nov. 25 trip to Southern Cal is a big exception.


2. Ohio State 113
QB Troy Smith and WR Ted Ginn Jr. were stunning last year. Buckeyes won their last seven games as Smith took control and smeared Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Defense returns only two starters. Early trip to Texas on Sept. 9 will shape season.

(tie) 3. Southern Cal 104
The Trojans lose the last two Heisman winners, but, of four returning offensive starters, three are All-Americans. Defense should be better than last year's, which wasn't great. California and Notre Dame visit on back-to-back weeks in November.

(tie) 3. Texas 104
Vince Young is gone and the Longhorns don't have a quarterback who has taken a college snap. Running game and defense remain awesome. Tough schedule: Ohio State at home, Oklahoma in Dallas, and road trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech loom.

5. Oklahoma 102
RB Adrian Peterson is healed-up and nobody's better when he's well. No returning starters in OL, but solid sophomore QB Rhett Bomar and talented WRs return. Defense should be more Sooner-like with seven starters back. Sept. 16 game at Oregon could be a land mine, and don't forget Texas in Dallas on Oct. 7.

Which is nice.

It's also crap.

Preason prognosticators are generally clueless and as written previously here put an inordinate amount of focus on skill position players. Return a good QB and WR and Street and AthLindys Sporting Illustrated will rank your team high too -- especially if you're Notre Dame and can sell magazines.

The truth is that the odds are still long, probably longer than the real odds indicate. Notre Dame will likely be favored in all of its games (save SoCal,) but that doesn't tell the whole story. You have to be substantially better than your opponents to run the table, not marginally better. Two touchdowns better or more.

Anything less and chance, officiating, injuries or a bad Shark hair day could cost you the game and the title. If Notre Dame is only a slight favorite to win two games, the reality is that the Irish are actually a dog to win them both. Extrapolate that same principle out over 12 games and the odds diminish fast.

Last year I predicted a 4-2 start just based on per game probablity. Playing a similar game with this year's schedule, Notre Dame looks like a two loss team. I really don't know the lines of the games, but let's guess at this breakdown.

S 02 @ Georgia Tech -7
S 09 PENN STATE -3
S 16 MICHIGAN -3
S 23 @ Michigan St. -7
S 30 PURDUE -10
O 07 STANFORD -10
O 21 UCLA -7
O 28 @ Navy (Baltimore) -XXXXXI
N 04 NORTH CAROLINA -10
N 11 @ Air Force -14
N 18 ARMY -XXXXXI
N 25 @ Southern Cal +3

Being kind, the Irish are probably a 90 % favorite to beat Air Force, North Carolina, Stanford and Purdue. I'll put Army and Navy at 100%. Keeping with the kindness, how about an 80% favorite to beat Georgia Tech, MSU and UCLA, 65% to beat Penn State and the skunkbears and a 40% "favorite" to beat Southern Cal.

Those are probably generous, but given that genorosity it still equates to just an 7% chance of running the table to the BCS championship game with a likely 50% shot in the title game. That puts ND's undefeated national title hopes at 4% on the optimistic side - or 1/25.

What could work in Notre Dame's favor this year is parity and that a one loss team could get into the title game. Let's add a 40% bump for that possibility, putting the real odds ND can take home the title at 6%.

All guesswork at this point, but even given a huge margin of error, 5-1 odds look like good ones for Cramer to SELL! SELL! SELL!

Why so down, Rock?

Not down, just being realistic. Notre Dame's coming in as a favorite this year not because the Irish look so powerful, but because there's a vacuum of dominance. There are probably 15 teams with a shot at the title this year if the games roll their way and the Irish are going to have to catch a card on the river to make this gutshot straight draw. You actually stand a better shot of hitting the gut shot on the river and about the same as hitting a gut shot straight flush on the river.

While the focus is on the defense improving, I think we'll know very soon if this team will be a national championship team by focusing on the non-stars. Whenever a team makes a championship run, it's because the non-star players have elevated their games past their old peformance boundaries.

That's what the Patriots did year in year out. In my mind, the harbinger of a National Championship won't be the play of Quinn, but Santucci, not Abiamiri, but Frome and not Zibby, but Richardson.

Our stars will be expected to perform better than they have in the past, but for a team to beat tho' the odds, especially this Irish team, it has to see an elevation of play across the board. You'll know we have a great team when Richardson makes two clutch picks or Frome plants Booty's Booty into the South Central turf.

In my mind, Stams and Pritchett were as much the reason for the 1988 title run as Tony Rice.

Notre Dame needs the Stams (plural) of 2006/2007 to demand a different level of play from themselves if the fightin' are going to beat the odds. What's clear is that there's a title for the taking this year. As Grand Pap used to say, no one gives you the bone (unless they're giving you the bone,) you gotta fight for it.