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The Way We Were

As was posted on Rock's House we should never forget how great Notre Dame football can be and how dangerous dumbing down the schedule is to the Notre Dame legacy.


This is from Rilo:
This is the intro to the 1993 game against FSU. It seems over the top in
retrospect, but if you are old enough to clearly recall the fall of '93 it makes
sense. I think it's safe to say that this was the most anticipated regular season game, by the nation at large, since the '88 game against Miami. The buzz for this game began in late September and reached a fever pitch in mid-October. USA Today had a cover story on the game every day in the week leading up to the game and ESPN sent their "College Gameday" show out of studio for the first time. From the middle of October to November 11th, almost every person you ran into had an opinion on this game, and I was living nowhere near South Bend.





That 1993 game was memorable for me: I left work early on Friday from New York, rented a car and drove through the night to reach the bend early that morning where I was promptly rousted from my car by the campus police. I couldn't afford a ticket and wandered the campus freeloading on tailgates. I remember the energy was incredible. I watched the first part of the game at a tailgate before a hooked-in fan took pity on me. We paid off an usher and I watched the rest of the game from the student section. Thankfully, I didn't come back for the BC game.

All the Right Moves

No matter what you think of Charlie, you have to give him credit for self-awareness and a willingness re-examine his role and make hard decisions. For example, the DCE in me loves the move of Ryan and Richardson to defensive end. Ryan just didn't have the speed to make a difference at linebacker. He'll now have a chance to bulk up and use relative speed to his advantage. It may be another year before he has the size to be truly effective at DE. Ryan could be one of those guys who emerges in his final year. Of course, NDNation readers wanted to DCE Ryan last year. Here's Charlie from this press conference:
Also, you'll notice Morrice Richardson and John Ryan for that matter, even though he's not practicing, you'll notice both these guys are now on their way to 260 and rising. They both are in the high 250s and we have moved them in the off-season from outside linebacker positions to defensive end positions and one of their biggest tasks in the off-season to continue getting bigger, slowly, methodically where we are not trying to gain too much weight too fast; to try to get them closer to the 260 to 270 range by the time we kick off in September, which is what our goal with both these players as they have been transitioned to having their hand up to having their hand down on a full-time basis.
Many an NDNation reader had commented that Sam Young was a better right tackle than left, but Weis revealed that Young played last year with a bum right wrist necessitating putting Young at the left tackle spot. This year he's moving to right tackle:
The other thing with Sam, for over a year now we have dealt with a right wrist problem from his freshman year, and that's the main reason why we moved him last year from the right side to the left side it he couldn't block. He couldn't punch anyone with his right hand coming off the edge on the right side. So therefore, we had to move him over to the left side. Well, now, that wrist is recovered which will answer one of your questions, which is why you see Sam Young over right tackles because he's got his right wrist back and that's where we project him to be.
Of course, nothing was more heartening that listening to Weis describe the need to get back to fundamentals, which hopefully means that the "we're going to out scheme everybody" philosophy is taking a back seat to good ole fashion blocking and tackling. Depth and experience on the offensive line are a welcome change. If you remember, last year we had to have the same offensive linemen play for both teams in the Blue-Gold game. That was an obvious sign we were in for a rough year. We were so short on bodies, we couldn't even field a two-deep:
We have never been able to line up too deep and with guys that are actually contenders for the starters... well, we are going to spend, first of all, the offensive line, one of the areas that we've identified is we are going to spend a lot more time with them away from the group emphasizing fundamentals and techniques that we felt that needed one of the greatest areas of improvement, and you can't really improve unless you allocate the time. So that's one of the things we are going to do.
Objectives going into the spring. The obvious objective that everyone could see is we need to improve fundamentally and technically across the board. There's one position that's exempt from that which is, you know, once again, not to be redundant but just stating the obvious.
Paddy Mullen has moved to nose tackle (because he seemingly ate his way out of defensive end?) Looks like he's about to give birth to Paddy Jr. on Irish Eyes. Didn't he arrive with 4.7 speed?
You'll see a couple of guys that are in phenomenal shape as we go into this off-season. Now I can't say that for everyone but citing a couple examples, it would be very clear and obvious to everyone.
Weis is at least working on special teams. I offer without comment:
Obviously with Michael (Haywood) and the offensive staff, me being more hands off on the offense, although I obviously still stay involved, but being more hands-off the operation of the offense will generally be a change. On special teams, probably the question that everyone was asked the most was about Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech. Due to scheduling conflicts he wasn't able to have us there and we are going on April 1. So next Tuesday is the day that we will be spending time, both myself and (special teams coordinator) Brian (Polian) will be with Coach Beamer and his staff on Tuesday.
If anyone doesn't get why Weis is more beloved than his predecessors, despite his lack of tact at times, you can find it here:
Honorary coaches for the spring game. Did something a little bit different this year. I have a representative from the last six decades as honorary coaches, so we have one from the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, and 2000s.
From Pass Right, to the Navy Salute, Weis gets what Notre Dame means and it appears he's also getting a handle on the transition from on the job training to experienced head coach. Weis made a decisive move in replacing Minter with Brown and now Tenuta, he's changed his offense, he's changed his relationship philosophy and now he seems to be making all the right moves.

Time may yet prove him wrong, but after two BCS games, back to back top recruiting classes and a willingness to make soul searching decisions... it's obvious he's committed to doing everything within his power to make Notre Dame an elite team again.

Anyone would have reservations after last season (and I still have many,) but given what he had to work with and the changes he's made, he deserves the benefit of the doubt even from fans who have seemingly made up their minds.

A Season of Hope

I like that Charlie has strong beliefs. We needed someone to take a leadership role when he arrived. But Charlie was, to a certain extent, faking it. He’d never been a head coach and he didn’t fully get it, but I believe he was trying, is trying and has the ability and drive to succeed. I really like that he’s stepped back to evaluate his position. So it appears there could be some learning here that could pay huge dividends. This is a coach who took the Irish to back to back BCS games, the two best seasons since Lou. He's proven he can coach at a high level with the right players. Even so, I've felt a constant insecurity about Weis whose offense teams figured out in a year, who goes for it against all saneness on fourth down, who stubbornly refuses to put the defense on the field first on kickoffs when the offense is putrid, who... oh wait, you can just read my last article for this stuff.

Now as to why you should be positive about this season, I first have to take you back to last season's painful debacle. When there are so many things wrong at one time, there is no fix that works. You cover up one weakness and another breaks and last year was the perfect storm of weakness. We had a green offensive line, green quarterback, green wide receivers and ultimately a green running back. You want to wear green, not be green.

And if multiple parts of the whole are constantly breaking, it’s really impossible to fix the whole. And therein lies the hope for next year.

When things are as abysmally bad on offense as they were last season, it actually doesn’t take much to realize a great gain. Any one factor moving toward the positive has an exponential domino effect on the rest. For example, if the blocking improves even slightly, Clausen's performance improves measurably (and he really had a great year for the hand and the situation he was dealt.)

I expect the line to make marked improvement both because of physical maturity and coaching technique and scheme changes. I find it hard to believe we won't make a quantum leap in offensive line performance from last year (of course even a quantum leap only gets us to okay.)

With a better offensive line, our running game should be more productive. We have a very good backfield of talent with a mix bruisers and speedsters. Running Backs tend to hit their potential quicker than other positions and with Allen, Hughes and Aldridge we should find an effective mix. I'll withhold judgment on whether I think Weis will really commit to the run.

Jimmy Clausen should also be noticeably better this year as I expect Sharpley to be. Clausen's going to be a star and I expect he'll make better decisions, be able to withstand more hits (17 pounds heavier is the report with lumberjack beard,) and have much more comfort with the system and his receivers.

I also expect our receivers to be good to very good. Grimes, Parris and Kamara all have good potential and game experience under their belts. These three, along with Tate and West should form our core experienced group. Of the freshmen I expect Michael Floyd to play a lot early and that he could be our best receiver by midyear. As I've said before, he's an out of the box ready to play prospect.

Tight End, depending on Yeatman's eligibility shouldn't drop off too much considering we couldn't get the ball to Carlson last year. Ragone is the fastest tightend we've ever had and Rudolph brings size, speed and athleticism to the position.

So there's a lot of hope for our offense. Once we fix the major offensive line woes it will be much simpler to tweak the skill positions where we have more potential than any time since Lou roamed the sidelines.

The maturity of our best talent is still a year away, but I expect to see the potential of the younger players shining through early in 08 and a top 50 offense. The two most important offensive players this year IMO are Clausen and Wenger. Wenger has the toughness to set the tone for the Offensive Line. If our Offensive Line problems can be solved, I think Clausen (assuming he can stay focused and healthy) will have a better career than Quinn, which is saying something.

Defense is another story for another article. In sum, we have a chance to be better next year with a real linebacker coach, more experience and young talent coming up through the ranks.

See, I'm not a hater.

** As an ND aside. I recently worked with former Irish quarterback Tim Koegel and received incredibly positive feedback from our senior executives on his material. If you need to know more about effective presenting, I highly recommend his book both as part of the Irish family and for practical application.

You can find his website at http://www.presentationacademy.com and his book on Amazon.

A Wolverine is a Secretive Weasel

A little more meat to the ongoing embarrassment about Michigan's athletes and academics from the Ann Arbor News (if you need a refresher read Hail to the Undeclared and What's Your Major.) The AA News is doing a four part series focusing on Michigan's "propensity" to steer athletes into easy majors and courses. Given Rich Rodriguez's less than stellar reputation as a recruiter and champion of academics, it should be interesting to watch how Michigan addresses theses issues and ones likely coming around the corner. The Editor of the Ann Arbor News summed up his feelings this way:
For me, the stories present a sad scene - few people on campus are asking whether U-M athletes, especially those who are academically challenged, are getting a quality education.
A couple of points that were made in one of the articles below about the abuse of Independent Study Courses:
  • Michigan athletes described being steered to Hagen's courses by their athletic department academic counselors and, in some cases, earning three or four credits for meeting with Hagen for as little as 15 minutes every two weeks.
  • Three former athletic department employees said Hagen's independent study courses are sometimes used by academic support staff to boost the grade point averages of athletes in danger of becoming academically ineligible to compete in sports.

Hannah and Friends Dinner

From RocketShark on Rock's House:

After seeing the announcement on ND Nation regarding the Hannah & Friends benefit dinner, I decided "why not?" and bought a ticket (although it meant missing a great hockey game at the JACC this evening).

The event was held at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Granger. After descending the stairs into the private area, you immediately meet Coach Weis who shakes your hand and veteran photographer Mike Bennett takes your picture together. Then into the main dining area where a silent auction was underway. Most of the pieces there were Bennett photographs with mattes plus some unique collages. Personally, I have more than enough ND stuff to hang on the walls so I wasn't in the market. Autographed footballs, helmets and assorted nick nacks were also available. Interestingly, there were a few NY Giants items. Pete Schivarelli, who is on the board of directors of Hannah & Friends, started the bidding on about 75% of the items offered. The leprechaun from 2005, Kyle Chamberlin, got his green suit out of mothballs to make an appearance in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.

It was a fairly intimate gathering as seating was limited to only 100 people. I have to say we were really well taken care of food and libations-wise. An open bar and plenty of wait staff walking around with platters full of various appetizers started us off. Both Coach and Maura Weis gave short introductory speeches and we set to eating. A generous cut of Filet Mignon was the main course, served on small plates heated to 500-degrees (so the staff cautioned). Mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and a delicious sweet potato casserole were the sides. For dessert, a rich chocolate mousse cheesecake was served.

After dinner, Maura Weis gave an award to Larry Griggers of Ruth's who was responsible for the venue and meal. Mrs. Weis is an absolute rock with a command of the issues facing families that include members with special needs. An informative video detailing some of the work and goals of Hannah & Friends was shown.

Coach Weis called a live auction for an official ND helmet signed by a multitude of Irish coaches and football stars. The winning bid was $2,500 and two other helmets were sold to other auction participants for the same amount. Next were four tickets to the San Diego State game, plus four pre-game sideline passes. Those went for $2,000 and again, two other auction participants were able to buy similar lots for the same price (I thought about jumping in and saying my name was Andy Cross, class of '87 or '88 -- just bill me). Finally, there were four tickets to the Michigan game. Pete Schivarelli won the bid at $3,000, plus he offered to pay $1,000 more if he could also get pre-game sideline passes for that game. Done.

Throughout the evening, Charlie Weis was both amusing with his quips and moving with his eloquence regarding the families that deal with the special needs of members and how the Notre Dame community was an integral part of the success of Hannah & Friends.

It seemed to me that a significant amount of people attending the event (if not the majority) were were already in some way affiliated with the organization. It was a very friendly group of people to meet and talk with. I chatted with Mike Bennett about his job covering the football team. He travels with them, and one thing that stuck out in his mind was the amount of food the players consume on the plane. I talked a bit with Mr. Schivarelli about the statue of Coach Parseghian. He is trying to get it moved outside the stadium so people can see it better throughout the year and not just during home football games. Jeff Jeffers was also in attendance and that rounds out the people I recognized.

I'm glad I went, and look forward to attending future Hannah & Friends events.

(I am also glad the hockey team beat the daylights out of Ferris State.)

Stars, Potential and Probability

As a follow-up to the last article, scratchman did an interesting analysis on Cartier Field of the 2002 recruiting class, which showed that star ratings have relevance. But it also showed something else... stars are no guarantee. 62% of 5-Star players (the very best -- the ones we think are can't miss prospects) didn't get drafted. 79% of 4-Star players failed to drafted and 92% of 3-Star prospects didn't get drafted. The takehome here is that you need to recruit aggressively and continuously because the odds are that even your best recruits won't live up to their potential. Of course the good news story here for Notre Dame football is that the staff can sell NFL potential and education for the majority of 5-star kids who won't make the NFL. Here's scratchman's article:

Star-Gazing

Each year I conduct a detailed analysis of the rivals class ratings and the
NFL draft. Each year the results look about the same. Stars are oly fair in
evaluating an individual player, they are excellent in evaluating an entire
group or recruiting class of players. The Question My question is Who from the
Rivals 2002 High School Recruiting class was drafted into the NFL and did their
their "Star" rating serve as any kind of a predictor of their draft position?
This does not mean that the players not drafted will not ultimately be
successful in the NFL or that if they were not drafted they were not impact
players for their college team. We know for sure that if a guy was drafted by
the NFL he was a true STUD college football player.

This is just one
COMPLETELY OBJECTIVE barometer of the value of "Stars" Methodology I downloaded
rivals classes 2002 to 2007 into a database spreadsheet. I have also downloaded
all NFL drafts beginning with 1997. I did the painstaking process of matching
these two databases to find where these guys ended up. This was hard because
players had nicknames and formal names. Some changed schools and changed
positions.

I THINK I got all of them matched that could be matched in
the NFL drafts 2005, 2006, and 2007. Results: NFL Draft Outcomes of the 2002
Rivals Recruiting Class

... Total...
....Total.....Total...Percent....Average
.....
DraftedUndrafted...Drafted...Draft..... Position
5-Star......15............24...........39.......38%...........104
4-Star......67...........253.......320.......21%...........110
3-Star......39...........508.......547........7%.............113
2-Star......24...........531.......555........4%.............142
Total......145.........1316.......1461.......10%

Conclusions
1.
Clearly 5-Stars are a great deal. Get all you can all the time.
2. Clearly
4-Stars are a great deal. Get all you can all the time.
3. Some 3-Stars will
turn out to be great players (Mike Hart, Braylon Edwards etc.) but for the most
part they are NOT the core stars of a Top-10 college football team. Those are
the 4-stars and 5-stars.
4. Draft position was clearly higher depending upon
star rating, but the difference was not great.
5. Of the 255 players drafted
into the NFL each year about 100 of them could not be found anywhere in the
rivals database.....Hmmmmm.

If Weis Fails

As bad as last year was, it wasn't as disturbing to me as 2006. I knew last year was going to be the low point, but what bothered me in 2006 is that we had an offense that was capable of controlling games, but we stalled repeatedly, couldn't protect Quinn, repeatedly left running yards on the table and despite Weis's pedigree looked very predictable. There were several things I've noticed that may or may not be what they seem, but as you know if you read this column, I look for trends. Here are the themes of failure that I've repeatedly seen and heard.

Valuing Scheme "Potential" over Execution

Charlie calls good plays. They could almost all work when you look back at the film. But what Charlie seems to not see or acknowledge is that college kids have limitations on their ability to execute. They just don't have the time to practice to be able to carry out complex plays on the same level as pro players. So even though it's not a scheme issue to Charlie, it is a scheme issue. When something fails again and again and again, it's not a good call.

Possibility (what the scheme can do) x Probability (offensive execution given the situation) = What you can expect out of this play

Weis seems focused on number one or isn't accurately gaging number two.

Those errors seem to be exacerbated by two other closely related issues.

Complicated Blocking Schemes

In his interview with Mike Frank of Irish Eyes Charlie talked about breakdowns not being a scheme issue and lamented that sometimes a player is supposed to block another player and he doesn't block the guy. Charlie, if it happens over and over again, it means something's wrong with the blocking scheme. I've been told our kids have to make to many reads at the line of scrimmage leading to mental mistakes. Also, constant pass blocking makes linemen passive. We had at least decent line talent in 2006 and Quinn looked like a tackling dummy. Our line problems started in 2006. Something needs to change.

Charlie Would Rather Pass

Passes, by nature, carry more execution risk. Charlie's pass happy. Even when we got our running game going the past two years, Charlie would inexplicably call pass play that would fall incomplete. Last year there was a greater than 50/50 chance on any one play that a pass would result in sack or an incomplete, but Charlie kept passing almost ending Clausen's career before it started. It comes as no surprise to me that Charlie is good friends with Andy Reid who once stated he would never run if he didn't have to. This was my Yuengling fueled rant after the MSU game:

The Definition of Insanity

***** Author's Note: the following was written after a gamewatch ******

is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Repeat a thousand times: we cannot protect the passer. No amount of nifty scheming is going to change this until we actually do the dirty work of protection.

The turning point in this game (and I yelled it loudly when it happened) was the first quarter with second and 5 from our own 13. We've just had a nice run for 5 yards up the gut. We've got forward momentum and good blocking. The only thing that can set us back at this point is a pass.

We call a drop-back pass. Michigan State is bringing the house.

Clausen is sacked on the 4 yard line.

Repeat: PASSING PLAYS GO BACKWARDS!

Draw is stuffed, we punt, Michigan State scores a touchdown.

The second defining moment was just a few series later.

ND is down 14-7, Aldridge powers it out for 5. Notre Dame then throws for a first down with Clausen barely getting it off in time. It's clear that we cannot protect the quarterback right now. It's then first and 10 from the 31... we call a play action action with hardly a nod to the fake the ball is stripped loose on the 13.

Even though it doesn't look like it, I think this is the game right here. We hold them to a field goal. We just don't have margin of error to give up field position like that. We needed a cushion and instead gave them the advantage WE KNEW they were going to have going into this game -- their pass rush against our passing game.

Our passing game goes backward, while our running game was chewing them up for almost 6 yards a carry! Clausen threw 20 times for a net gain of 7 yards after sacks and fumbled takeaways. We lose or gain no yards more than half the time and net a ridiculous .3 yards per attempt (including sacks.)

J. Aldridge 18 104 5.8 43 0 0
R. Hughes 6 35 5.8 18 1 0
A. Allen 3 13 4.3 9 0 0

It's not a crime that our passing game isn't there yet. There was simply no need to go there because the risk was just too high. We go backwards when we pass and Michigan State couldn't stop the run.

I'm frustrated because this should have been a W. Aldridge and Hughes should carry this team until we can get protection. Grimes made some great grabs, but he wouldn't have to make "great" grabs if he were 6'3". There is simply no plausible reason to be starting two wide receivers you can't even see. If they had game breaking speed, maybe. They don't. Kamara, Parris, Hord and Tate give us size and speed.

Why Charlie went to the passing game with Sharpley at the end is perplexing. We can't pass. There's no point.

We need to start the big receivers, run the ball and ditch the horizontal passing game except as a change-up. Everyone's prepared for it. And no need to go for it on 4th down especially at that point in the game.

We showed signs of a great running game that we need to ride. MSU couldn't deal with it.

There were a lot of positive signs today and I should note that new offensive lines usually gel by the 5th game.

But we could have been the one's gutting MSU in the second half.

Instead we were gutted again.
End rant.

On the plus side we've got some strong receivers coming in and Clausen is perfect for Weis's scheme, so he may just "talent" his way out of this one. And while Charlie has turned over the game planning and presumably the playcalling, I don't see a scenario with a game on the line where he's not taking the lead. Haywood is completely unproven as a playcaller. If he were turning the playcalling over to Chow, that would make perfect sense. If you think about this (and this is scary) we now have a completely inexperienced offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator with one year of experience and a special teams coach with little experience and a track record of under performance. This is Notre Dame Football?

Motivating With Negativity

Charlie would have to be dense to not see that constant negativity does not work with College players. It can work with a Quinn, but it has major limitations. Charlie doesn't have to go to charm school, but he should at least learn how positive motivation works and the only thing that it requires is for Charlie to try. Lou was negative too, but he knew when to lean in and lift a player up. What was so troubling about 2006 was watching so many good to great players just plain dog it on the field.

Lack of Special Teams Expertise

Charlie really said that Polian was the best choice to coach special teams? Either mindbogglingly stupid or insincere. You make the call. Polian is a great recruiter, but he was a disaster as a linebackers coach after being a disaster as a special teams coach in 2005.

The Attitude Game Decision

The other thing Charlie needs to dump is the "attitude" decision, the, "we're going to go for it on fourth down no matter how absurd the game situation" decision. It's okay to play with an attitude, it's okay to coach with an attitude, it's not okay to always, always, always make a decision based on an attitude. There's a nuance of decision making there that Weis is missing.

I've defended Weis and generally like him and how he's balance academics, recruited tirelessly and upheld Notre Dame traditions, but I don't defend without reservation.

If Charlie fails, my guess is that the post failure root cause analysis will map back to one of the issues above.

Talent vs. Potential

An experienced and talented team can often run on auto-pilot.

A team without experience simply has a greater chance of failure at each position on each play due to lack of physical maturity, time in the system (and on the field) and mental maturity.

For example, Larry Coker's first Miami teams were experienced and talented. He took them to a national championship in his first season after Butch Davis left, but after that they slowly fell apart and Coker was eventually fired. In other words experienced talent won the national championship for Miami, not Coker.

It's simply harder to win with an inexperienced squad, and you need experience for both depth and front line capability. So why can't you win with just a talented team, "Gee, they have so much talent." There's a reason astute observers of sport (okay, you don't have to be that astute) usually use the caveat "young talent."

Talent as it's normally used within sports is really describing potential based on innate ability. Now, potential is nice, but isn't the same as current ability level or demonstrated ability level. Remember ability can be either innate or developed (born vs. built.)

Take LSU this past year. Matt Flynn, a 5th year senior took them to the title. Flynn doesn't have as much talent as Ryan Perrilloux, but that's talent as defined by potential. LSU wouldn't have won a championship with Flynn as a sophomore or a junior, but as a 5th year senior he had the physical development, mental development and system experience to guide them to a national championship. It's fair to say that LSU wouldn't have won without Flynn as a 5th year senior and certainly wouldn't have won with the "more talented" Ryan Perrilloux quarterbacking their offense. Perrilloux was the number one rated quarterback in the country two years ago (the one before Clausen.)

Everyone knows who Jacob Hester is... now, but it took him four years to develop into a key player in a national championship run.

So, what's your point, you ask?

Without Flynn and Hester having four and five years to develop, LSU probably doesn't win the title.

You need numbers and potential in the upper classes, because that's where your highest probability of reaching potential will reside. Overall development differs by position and by player, but on the whole upper class leadership and experience are essential pieces of good teams and most players need time in a system to develop their potential.

In really good teams, the "bones" of the team are usually in the junior, senior and 5th year classes, which allows the spectacular younger "talent" to break through and develop faster by playing next to experienced players.

Here's a quip on Bo Pelini and LSU:

It also helps that a defense with 11 seniors and juniors on the two-deep depth chart is entering its third season under Pelini. With seniors such as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Blue Ribbon's national preseason defensive player of the year; linebacker Ali Highsmith; strong safety Craig Steltz; and cornerback Chevis Jackson, the Tigers aren't short on experience or leadership.

"We're so much further ahead than we were before," Pelini said. "There wasn't as much of a sense of urgency to put in a bunch of stuff in the spring. We have ideas and we tweak things and we added a few things, but it goes in pretty easy now because most of the guys understand the system and the terminology better."

So, a couple of things here.

1. Individual development is important.
2. Team development, having a team with a number of seasoned players in the system for a period of time, is important.

This applies to Notre Dame how?

Well, Notre Dame has very little support in the upper level classes to surround the talent that's bubbling up underneath. The Irish don't yet have the players to develop enough Flynns to lead the team from above. It's a legacy from Willingham that is just starting to wash out, remember he recruited the majority of the seniors on this team which made up two of the worst back to back classes in Notre Dame history (if not the worst two.) By my count the only kids recruited by Weis who weren't in the pipeline already were Steve Quinn, Darrell Hand and Pat Kuntz . Those are our senior and 5th year kids.

If your kids haven't physically developed yet (as Weis claims is the case with the OL last year,) you can't get off square one.

It will be interesting to watch Justin Brown this year. It took him four years to see the field, now he might have the chance to evolve into a very good player. The fact is that the longer any kid is in the system the higher the probability he'll reach his potential. Each less year in the system, the less chance he'll play to his potential. So a player might be talented, but just not had enough time to physically and mentally develop.

I looked back at the impact by class from 2006 and found that most starters on top teams were in the senior class, followed by almost equal amounts from the junior and 5th year classes (which falls here due to graduation.) No surprise, there. It takes kids time to develop physically and mentally. Sophomores had the next greatest team impact and freshmen on good teams rarely made an impact (surprisingly little.)

So your "Talent" equation, based on starter ratios of good teams, approximates the impact you should expect from any given universe of recruits. It looks something like this:

Good teams have 8 seniors, 5 juniors, 4 5th year seniors, 4 sophomores and one freshmen starting. That might be a little off as I don't have the analysis with me, but it's fairly close. The other key point here is that the sophomores and freshmen who do play are usually beating out the upperclassmen, which means they're ready to go. That's best case scenario.

In sum, when thinking in terms of playing ability, it's twice as important to have a good senior class than a sophomore class and many times as important to have a good senior class than a freshmen class. And that's simply because there's a higher probability players will reach their potential by their senior year than by their sophomore year.

So when you read some simpleton trying to extrapolate expectations based on "talent" it's important to ask what someone means by that. Are we really just talking about potential or a realistic expectation of ability to perform given innate ability and experience or demonstrated ability on the field?

In reality there are a lot of pieces that make up talent:

Innate Ability + Physical Development + Mental Development + Coaching Development + Development within a Team (are you surrounded by good players) + social factors + ?

And almost all of those pieces can be improved markedly by more time, which is why senior dominated teams usually play well and also why teams usually redshirt as many players as possible (which is where the phrase "true freshmen" comes from.)

Qualitatively speaking, wide receivers and running backs seem to reach their potential the fastest and are usually near their potential by their Junior years (though guys like Reggie Brooks and Ryan Grant needed more time.)

Offensive Lineman aren't often at the top of their games until their Senior or 5th years. Some develop sooner like Jeff Faine, but many others just take a lot of physical and mental seasoning (like Dan Santucci) before they arrive and contribute at a really high level.

Quarterbacks, generally, seem to take until their Junior years before they can play at a high level and until their Senior or 5th years before they play at a championship level.

Defensive Linemen seem to need longer than linebackers and defensive backs to develop and reach their potential.

I'm sure there are ratios for the above, but the bottom line still looks similar to last year.

Most "Seniors" on other teams are really 5th year kids and "Juniors" are red-shirt Seniors. Most good teams red-shirt the majority of their freshmen because they understand that it's going to take time for players to develop. If the best young players reach their potential sooner or there's a great need, they'll see the field earlier. It's great to have a Percy Harvin as an option (when a kid is so good you have to play him.) It's not great to have to play a Percy Harvin before his time based on need. See Notre Dame last season. Some might say that's an excuse, others might say it's reality, either way it's an indisputable factor.

Notre Dame, again, is still severely lacking in senior and 5th year talent (last year it was Junior, Senior and 5th year talent,) but the level of players coming up underneath and their extensive early experience will likely shift the growth curve for the younger guys.
If that happens, we could be surprised by the performance of the Irish in 08.