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The Rushing Referendum and 4th Downs

The way we fans complain about the lack of a rushing game at Notre Dame you'd think we never ran the ball at all last year. And at an average of 2.1 yards per rush you could make the case that rushing, at a rate of 6.3 yards per three downs, wasn't worth the effort. In contrast, we were averaging 5.2 yards per pass. Both are putrid. But when you back out sacks (which are counted against the run,) our rushing average per attempt rose to 3.48 yards per attempt or 10.5 yards per three downs. Still awful, but when you factor in possible loss per attempt, of which we had plenty in the passing game, running the ball becomes a much more attractive option. Now, factoring sacks back into the passing game, Notre Dame averaged just 3.59 yards per passing attempt.

In essence, our passing game was only fractionally better per attempt than our running game with a much higher risk of zero yards or loss of yardage. In fact, taking sacks into account, 51% of our passing plays went for zero or negative yards. So slightly more than half the time we were going nowhere or going backwards. And given how much we were struggling already, going backward was blood in the water and the sharks were swirling last year. We averaged 34 yards a game in sacks against us at a 7.8 yps (yards per sack) average.

Here's how this looks from a distance.

49% of the time our pass attempts went forward gaining an average of 9.2 yards per catch.
39% of the time our passes went incomplete.
12% of the time our pass attempts resulted in sacks at an average of 7.8 yards per sack.

You do the math. From a portfolio return perspective, only the crazy manager would allocate excessively to the pass.

However, it's a new year and it's heartening to hear Weis talk about pounding the ball. But he also talked about running the ball last year. And a much forgotten stat from 2006 is that, with first round draft choice Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and John Carlson, Notre Dame only completed passes 57.7% of the time after accounting for sacks. In contrast our rushing game averaged over 4 yards a carry when adding back in sacks. We really weren't that effective in 2006 either, though light years ahead of 2007.

From my point of view, we frequently abandoned the run at the first sign it might open up the passing game.

This brings us to 2008. We're clearly set up for a power rushing attack, but as Clausen and our talented wide receivers gain experience, it's going to be very tempting to default to a passing game. I think we'll know where we stand in the first three games.

Will we commit to the run?

Does Charlie understand you don't have to trick people in college football most of the time, just some of the time? Many times you can out man people with the same plays executed well. Often you just end up fooling yourself. College football isn't the constant game of chess the pros are.

Will we develop a true attacking personality?

Here's one for you. I actually think we may read the tea leaves on 4th down. Will Charlie continue to go for it on 4th down in absurd circumstances... when the costs are too high or will we take the sane approach that assumes we'll win more battles than not later in the game?

If we're still going for it often on 4th down in our own territory, my guess is that we'll still be giving up rushing yards to try to make the pass work.

If not, we may be looking at a very good season.

I just want Weis to look across the field and think, "f@#$ you Rodriguez, I'm jammin' Hughes, Aldridge and Allen down your throat until you're ready to puke."

I know, I know. Lithium.

I can't wait 'till next week either.

ND Officially #1 in Recruiting According to Rivals

As I wrote at the beginning of the month, attrition moved Alabama down and Notre Dame up to Number One in the revised "enrolled" recruiting rankings. The Irish are now number one both in average star ranking (average quality of incoming recruit) and the overall (very arbitrary) point rankings. Notre Dame had zero attrition from its incoming freshmen class which is already heavily ensconced on the two-deep. The headliners, from all reports, continue to be Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, both of whom will see extensive action this year. I remember someone mentioning that the only positive from losing Aurelious Benn was that it gave us a better shot at Michael (TO without the headcase) Floyd. Here's an excerpt from Rivals:

"Now that the Class of 2008 is in school and preparing for the season, Rivals.com has recalculated its final team recruiting rankings to account for prospects who did not make it to campus with the rest of their classmates. With the loss of several key recruits, including two four-star players to professional baseball, Alabama - the nation's No. 1 team on Signing Day - slides to No. 2. Notre Dame, which didn't lose a single recruit, pushes up to No. 1."

Here Come the Irish!

We're Going to Pound It!

So sayeth Charlie a day after the student appreciation night scrimmage that saw the offense struggle against a blitz happy defense, scoring just six points on two field goals. That's right... two field goals. That alone is reason for rejoicing. No, really, it's a big deal.

Was the offensive line bad or were they getting beaten by a blitzing defense that sensed the calls? Were our receivers awful or our defensive backs great? Impossible to know in a scrimmage without understanding the situation. But this much is clear, the incoming freshmen are going to play a lot this year. No less than eight freshmen made the two deep led by Kyle Rudolph, who many considered the top tight end recruit in the country. Purportedly no one can cover the 6'6" 255 pounder.

Rudolph had some freshmen company, Floyd, Cave, and Robinson also made the two deep on offense. On defense, four more players are on the two deep from the freshmen class: Blanton, Lewis-Moore, Johnson and Fleming. 23 players in total from the Sophomore and Freshmen classes are on the depth chart.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was Weis laying down the running law as covered in Irish Eyes:
“Not to be a hypocrite, but ever since I’ve been here I wanted to be able to pound the football and we haven’t yet, so we’re going to find out because we’re going to pound it. The only way of finding out is to take the big boys up front, to come off the ball and hand it off to those backs because I like all of them, I like all of those backs,” he said. “You’ve got to keep fresh legs out there at back and keep pounding it and that will help everything get better. It will help the play-action pass, it’ll get guys open on intermediate routes and it’ll help pass protection because people are going to have to worry about stopping the run first.”
Do you believe him? What does he mean by being a hypocrite? Guess we'll find out, but it sure is nice to think it might happen. Here's the two deep heading into T-2 weeks and counting.

OFFENSE

X
18 Duval Kamara 6-5 219 So.
23 Golden Tate 5-11 195 So.

LT
77 MIKE TURKOVICH 6-6 305 Sr.
70 Matt Romine 6-5 292 So.

LG
55 ERIC OLSEN 6-4 303 Jr.
72 PAUL DUNCAN 6-7 308 Sr.

C
51 Dan Wenger 6-4 302 Jr.
67 Thomas Bemenderfer 6-5 300 Sr.
or 52 Braxston Cave 6-3 315 Fr.

RG
59 Chris Stewart 6-5 337 Jr.
78 Trevor Robinson 6-5 306 Fr.

RT
74 SAM YOUNG 6-8 330 Jr.
75 Taylor Dever 6-5 301 So.

TE
9 Kyle Rudolph 6-6 252 Fr.
84 Will Yeatman 6-6 265 Jr.

Z
11 DAVID GRIMES 5-10 177 Sr.
3 Michael Floyd 6-3 215 Fr.

QB
7 JIMMY CLAUSEN 6-3 217 So.
13 Evan Sharpley 6-2 215 Sr.

FB
44 ASAPH SCHWAPP 6-0 257 Sr.
or 32 Luke Schmidt 6-4 246 Jr.
30 Steve Paskorz 6-2 235 So.

HB
5 Armando Allen 5-10 195 So.
or 33 Robert Hughes 5-11 237 So.
or 34 JAMES ALDRIDGE 6-0 225 Jr.


DEFENSE

DE
53 Morrice Richardson 6-2 255 Jr.
or 94 JUSTIN BROWN 6-3 277 Sr.
89 Kapron Lewis-Moore 6-4 257 Fr.

NT
95 Ian Williams 6-2 310 So.
93 Paddy Mullen 6-3 300 Jr.

DE
96 PAT KUNTZ 6-3 283 Sr.
9 Ethan Johnson 6-4 275 Fr.

SAM
22 Harrison Smith 6-2 212 So.
41 Scott Smith 6-4 235 Sr.

MIKE
58 Brian Smith 6-3 245 So.
49 Toryan Smith 6-1 244 Jr.

JACK
40 MAURICE CRUM JR. 6-0 235 Sr.
48 Steve Quinn 6-2 225 Sr.

WILL
90 JOHN RYAN 6-5 264 Jr.
or 56 KERRY NEAL 6-2 246 So.
45 Darius Fleming 6-1 236 Fr.

LCB
8 Raeshon McNeil 6-0 190 Jr.
4 Gary Gray 5-11 188 So.

FS
27 DAVID BRUTON 6-2 212 Sr.
31 Sergio Brown 6-2 205 Jr.

SS
28 Kyle McCarthy 6-1 203 Sr.
6 Ray Herring 5-10 198 Sr.

RCB
20 TERRAIL LAMBERT 5-11 195 Sr.
12 Robert Blanton 6-1 180 Fr.


SPECIAL TEAMS
PK
14 BRANDON WALKER 6-3 202 So.
39 Ryan Burkhart 5-11 190 Jr.

P
43 Eric Maust 6-2 177 Jr.
39 Ryan Burkhart 5-11 190 Jr.

LONG SNP
39 Kevin Brooks 6-2 240 Sr.
52 Braxston Cave 6-3 315 Fr.

SHORT SNP
52 Braxston Cave 6-3 315 Fr.
39 Kevin Brooks 6-2 240 Sr.

HLD
43 Eric Maust 6-2 177 Jr.
13 Evan Sharpley 6-2 215 Sr.

PR
5 Armando Allen 5-10 195 So.
11 David Grimes 5-10 177 Sr.
23 Golden Tate 5-11 195 So.

KR
5 Armando Allen 5-10 195 So.
23 Golden Tate 5-11 195 So.
21 Barry Gallup Jr. 5-11 200 Jr.
19 George West 5-10 196 Jr.

KO
39 Ryan Burkhart 5-11 190 Jr.
14 Brandon Walker 6-3 202 So.

Ragone Out For Year

Sophomore Tight End Mike Ragone will be out for the 2008 season after suffering an ACL tear Charlie Weis announced today:

"This summer while running routes, Mike tweaked his knee and partially tore his left ACL. His two options were to have the knee fixed immediately or to brace it and try to play. He understood that eventually the knee would have to be fixed and he was hoping to do it at the conclusion of the 2008 season. Mike had continued to practice but felt his progress had deteriorated. Thursday afternoon, Mike came to me and decided that having the surgery done now prior to the start of school would be best. Together with Jim Russ and our team doctors, we quickly arranged surgery for late Friday morning. The surgery was successful and Mike will spend the 2008 season rehabbing to be ready for the 2009 season."

Ragone's loss hurts for many reasons, first because the kid was such a hard, talented and determined worker and second, because the Irish are painfully thin in experience at Tight End. Ragone was being pushed for the starting spot by Kyle Rudolph who will now have to grow up very quickly. Ragone's injury also opens the door for Will Yeatman, Joseph Fauria and Luke Schmidt. Schmidt has been practicing in a H-back or move tight end role and, just a guess here, may now see more time in the traditional tight end spot.



It's an Underclassman's World at ND

Notre Dame's success will rest on the success of its sophomore class, with marginal help from the seniors and 5th year seniors. Consider that:

  • Right now our best running back is a sophomore, either Allen or Hughes
  • Our best quarterback is a sophomore in Clausen
  • Our best wide receiver is arguably sophomore Kamara
  • Our best tight end is sophomore Ragone
  • Our best defensive lineman is sophomore Williams
  • Our best linebacker is either sophomore Smith or sophomore Neal
  • Our best field goal kicker is sophomore Walker

I've never seen a Notre Dame team so dominated by sophomores (who would be redshirt freshmen at most schools) before, but behind this is the dramatic rise in the level of recruiting. Weis's first full recruiting class was large, but lacking in star talent and the attrition rate has been has been high since the sophomore class came in. And now the freshmen class is beginning to have a similar impact. The arrival of Floyd, Walker and Goodman has lead to the departure of Richard Jackson at Wide Receiver.

Some might look to these transfers and be tempted to draw other conclusions, but the simple fact is that in every case with transfers in this junior class, the transfer decided to leave after he was passed on the depth chart by one of the underclassmen.

It's great for recruiting in that players know that if they're the best, they'll play, it takes a toll on upperclass leadership, which has been all but non-existent of recent. The Irish have just 15 players combined from their senior and 5th year classes. Of those, not one player was rated higher than three stars. Only one player, David Bruton, appears to have All-American potential or would start on a top tier team.

And Notre Dame is actually getting younger, because the sophomores now have to look over their shoulders. Gary Gray has a great shot of playing, but here comes Blanton, a cocky and talented frosh. Ragone's in the driver's seat at tight tend, but Rudy is impressing the hell out of everyone. Tate and Kamara showed a lot of talent in '07, but watchers would be shocked if Floyd doesn't get playing time. And while Kerry Neal looked outstanding as a Freshman, Darious Fleming has already become a given for playing time in '08.

The good here is also the bad.

Notre Dame has a ton of talent in it's freshmen and sophomore classes and they're going to be playing a lot. Of course, that means that freshmen and sophomores are playing a lot, which is never ideal from a win column perspective, but sure is fun from a fan perspective.

Here Come the Irish!

It's time to realize Tim Kelley's dream of bringing back the "Here Come The Irish" chant that used to precede the Irish entrance onto the field and haunt Irish opponents . Somewhere along the line, the Here Come The Irish tradition fell by the wayside. It was tried last year, but there was a problem... no one knew quite what it sounded like and it became an embarrassing cheer. Kayo finally sent me an accurate recording of the chant, so now we know what it sounds like: Here Come The Irish

How do we make this happen? Suggestions include involving the band and the cheerleaders to lead the crowd and alert them to when the team is about to emerge from the tunnel. Then it's up to us Internet folk and Alumni Clubs to spread the word. Of course, there's the SEE theatrical vision, which starts with a lone bagpiper (taken from lacrosse) playing in memory of an Irish great as he marches out to the middle of the field. When he finishes, the crowd erupts into the Here Come the Irish chant which continues until the team emerges from the tunnel and explodes onto the field when the crowd screams in unison... GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hopefully some of you on the message boards can pick this up and make at least the first part of it reality as I'm off to Australia for a couple of weeks. BTW, just came across this on youtube.

HERE COME THE IRISH!

The Big Bounce: A Dozen Reasons the Irish will be Better in '08

(www.ndnation.com) - Unlike Darth Vannie's take in yesterday's lead article, I think Notre Dame has a chance to bounce back strong and into the top 20. Notre Dame is ranked lower than it should be because critics tend to put too much emphasis on last year's performance (see The Inflation Equation.)

The Irish are probably still too young across the board to expect much better than that, but the potential is there for dramatic improvements at many positions. And, as covered before, improvements in one position usually create improvements in others. If your line’s blocking better, your running backs and quarterbacks will look much better. If they’re playing better, the receivers don’t have to be perfect to get open. If the whole offense is playing better, the defense gets to rest. Given how many things went wrong last season, it only takes a few of these moving in the right direction to create some forward momentum and that momentum began with Coach Weis and some big changes.

1. Weis Wiser

Weis looked in the mirror last year and saw much of the blame for last season’s debacle. He knew he could have and should have coached better. But the changes needed were about more than just coaching, Weis needed to adjust his leadership style. That's something most leaders find very hard to do. Give him credit, Weis sought the counsel of those close to the program who point blank told him his Patton routine wasn't working (with the team or alumni) and in response, he reportedly received leadership coaching (an area I work in.) The result, a 180 in the way Weis works with players. If you read his quotes, it's like the light bulb went off. Somewhere in that self reflection he decided he had to treat college kids differently than pro players and change his coaching style. Some might wonder why a coach who makes $_,_ _,__.__ (does anyone really know what he makes?) has to learn on the job. Well, simple. We hired a coach with no head coaching experience and no recent college experience, so Weis HAS to learn on the job.

Weis has changed his attitude this year, but he’s also changed his role. Weis admitted to spending far too much time with quarterbacks last year and his preoccupation with play calling and quarterbacks hindered his ability to make decisions for the wider team good. He’s removed himself from that role and I think he'll have a better grasp of the overall needs of the team. And now that White is gone (who was reportedly afraid of Weis) Charlie has to know that he’s not going to be able to run rough shod over Swarbrick, so he'll be receiving leadership from above. And this starts immediately once someone has respect for his superior. Weis also looks like he's dropped 40.

2. Emotion

This is a direct result in the change of Weis's leadership style with the players and coaches. Weis admitted that players were often scared to make mistakes which made the team uptight and drained all the emotion from their play. The payoff of Weis’s decision to step back and encourage his team to show emotion was evident in the Blue Gold Game, where it actually looked like the kids were having fun and playing harder because of it. Notre Dame now looks like a team that wants to kick your ass and is going to talk it up and have fun doing it. You've got to think that it's going to make recruiting easier for Weis as well.

3. Practice

Closely related still, the Irish are having more intense and hard hitting practices, which, as El Kabong advised last year, was one of the reasons Pete Carroll cited for success in college. The pro model just doesn't work in college where you have so little time to prepare. In the pros, you want to preserve your player's health. In college you want kids to play with emotion and stick it to each other. Turns out, kids like to hit, who’d a thunk it?

4. Depth

Nothing makes a man player harder than someone younger right behind him ready to take his job. One insidious downside of the lack of depth at Notre Dame is that there was no one to push the first stringers. That’s not the case anymore, as there’s competition at almost every position on the team. Also, it’s tough to have full on hitting practices when you had the paper thin depth we had last year. Notice how all of these are interrelated?

5. Change in Play-calling

My frustration with Weis’s propensity to abandon the run (especially acute against Michigan State and Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago) is apparently a thing of the past. Not only has Weis given the play-calling reigns to OC and running back’s coach Mike Haywood, but he’s also talking a big game about running the ball down the opponents throat. Given our 58 sacks last year, maybe, possibly, Charlie’s starting to believe that a running game is vital to a good offense?

6. Bigger, Big Uglies

That of course isn’t possible unless you have offensive linemen opening holes and the Irish have put on bulk across the offensive line, except for Chris Stewart who’s down to 329. He’s the kind of the home grown road grader that Notre Dame hasn’t had in recent memory. You can’t coach what I call farm boy big and Stewart, Young and Robinson all have it. I expect dramatic improvement in the run game this year because of an emphasis on the run, offensive linemen who aren’t all sophomores, finally some depth and offensive linemen who's first step isn't backward on every play.

7. Latina and Weis Makeup

Not that they were fighting, but the two acknowledged philosophical differences last year which probably contributed to the nuclear meltdown across the offensive line. Latina has said the two are absolutely on the same page this year. Hopefully, that means more simplified blocking schemes that allow kids to just play.

8. Say Hello to The Real Jim Clausen

Last year an underweight Clausen came off surgery with a sore arm, wasn't allowed to lift weights and proceeded to get hurt again while playing behind the worst line in the NCAA and the worst line in Notre Dame history. Some actually labeled Clausen a bust (read Group Stupid Mindthink.) This year, Clausen us up 20 pounds in weight, has another year of experience and will likely have a running game so that he’s not running for his life on every play. All reports have Clausen playing at an exceptional level for a sophomore.

9. Wide Receivers

Our Wide Receiver situation is shifting from dire to young, but very talented. Kamara and Tate showed flashes of great ability last year and this year’s freshmen, Walker, Floyd and Goodman will press for playing time. Floyd’s been consistently good early in practice (7 on 7 included) and has an NFL body. Walker is flashing speed that Notre Dame just hasn’t had (except in spurts with Tate) and Goodman has been described as a faster Parris. Clausen figures to have a very good wide receiver corps by mid year.

10. Running Backs

In my opinion (surprise) Weis could have ridden Hughes to a couple of more wins last year, but he obviously wasn’t listening to my voice mails. This year, Hughes and Allen are no longer freshmen and Allen is starting to fill out nicely. Our running back situation looks, at the very least, solid this year with the possibility of being very good.

11. Tuh-noo-tah

On defense the upgrade in linebacker coaching will be dramatic. The Irish trade out Polian, a great recruiter who doesn’t have any real coaching experience there, for Tenuta who brings a wealth of knowledge and foul language to a fairly talented group of linebackers. I love Brian Smith. He's a kid who grew up before his time and is already a leader. Crum has all of the experience in the world and Harrison Smith has all of the athletic ability in the world. You have to figure we’re going to get exponentially better play out of our linebackers with Tenuta coaching back there (anyone remember Phillip Wheeler?)

12. Defensive Backs and Brown

Everyone loves Bill Lewis, but Brown coaching the defensive backs (the position he plays) just seems like a natural fit. Brown is the consummate motivator and the Irish seem to have their strongest combination of defensive backs in years. Everyone expecting big things out of the secondary. Combine a good secondary with a blitzing front seven and ND could create the same type of havoc it received last year.

With those those dozen improvements and the fact that we’ll simply have an older team along with an influx of very talented freshmen, it’s hard not to see the Irish make dramatic improvements in 2008. I want to mention the schedule as well, but history has taught us that easy "looking" schedules often look hard by the end of the year. If everything breaks right, a BCS berth may be a remote possibility, but Irish fans can realistically expect a good bowl in 2009. This is after all a team dominated by youth.

BTW, Vannie and I discussed both the positives and the negatives, but talking about them together became so muddled that we thought it was clearer to write two different articles. That said, Vannie and Cash should be banned from games, those two are the grim reapers of ND football. If you see them at a game, bet the other team... quickly.

Go Irish!!!!

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Star Gazing

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.

Notre Dame is the 8th Ranked School for Getting Rich

Talk about a recruiting advantage. Notre Dame can point to its stellar graduation rate, CFA awards, top 3 business school, successful alumni and team GPA as advantages, but Forbes magazine just came out with cold hard facts to complete the picture. Measured in dollars, Notre Dame was the only major football school (I suppose you could call Stanford a major football school *wink*) in the top 10 in Forbes' list of Top Colleges For Getting Rich with UC Berkeley being the only other major football school in the Top 20.

The Irish finished far ahead of many Ivy Leagues schools and were just two places behind Harvard and one behind UPenn. Sorry Urban, no Florida on the list. That's one tradition you can't steal and these aren't facts you can twist. You have to, literally, earn your way onto the list.

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Tea Leaves, Depth Charts and Comments

There's not much a fan can glean from a depth chart, but we sure try. Here's what struck me as I looked at the early 2008 chart and listened to comments from Weis and the team. This team is clearly Clausen's and Clausen appears ready to make a big leap in terms of maturity both mental and physical. It looks like Armando has been tabbed for significant playing time this year and all of the running backs look like they're ready to fuel a power running game (though Hughes may have gone a little overboard.) Speaking of that, our line certainly looks like it was "beefed" with a running game in mind and I believe that Charlie's move to step away from play calling actually makes this a possibility.

Chris Stewart is a key to this season, that Stewart's dropped to 329 shows great dedication on his part. If he and Young can start blocking downhill, Notre Dame will have a completely different look in 2008 (one can only hope.) Weis is clearly trying to set a tone with comments about ramming the ball down opponent's throats. Imagine what a DE will be thinking by the third quarter after 660lbs of beef have been hammering him for 20 minutes.

I'm starting to like our Wide Receiver situation. Grimes, despite his size challenges, is a very good receiver. Kamara has already proven he's ready to start. Weis's comments about Floyd certainly point to some early playing time as so many have predicted for the kid. Floyd, Gray and Cave (315) are arriving with at least the physical maturity to make a difference.

On the defensive side of the ball the tea leaves point to Notre Dame using a 4-3 look much of the season. Neal practiced with his hand down much of spring, but the real tip off is that John Ryan was supposed to move to DE, but is instead backing up Neal. I think we'll see ND in a 4-3 much this season. Positives on the defense include the reshaping of Emeka Nwankwo into an NFL looking player, Paddy Mullen squatting 600 lbs and no injuries on the rest of the line (I was hoping to see a few more lbs from Richardson.) Justin Brown's topping 270 to add some depth here. I was very encouraged to see Brandon "Coke Machine" Newman show up in such incredible shape. Newman blew away Scouts at the Army All-American game and may yet prove the equal of defector Omar Hunter. Williams showed up at over 300 lbs, with a little extra and Ethan Johnson is in great shape at 275. We only need a couple of these players to exceed early expectations in order to field a decent defensive line or better. Imagine these guys two years from now (in fact, imagine this whole team two years from now.)

I really like the move of Brian Smith inside (then again I like the move of Travis Thomas to LB,) but the move of Harrison Smith to SAM shows you that ND wants a LB with the ability to cover and rush and Smith II is an off the charts athlete (4.3 40) with instincts. You have to get a guy like that on the field. Freshmen Steven Filer and Darius Fleming are coming in with bodies that are ready to play.

Not much to tell about the defensive backs other than Blanton just looks like a play maker, McNeil has a linebacker's body and Slaughter is already showing why Florida made a push for him late in the recruiting season.

While every team has players that "could be" surprising early on, ND at least has those players at the need positions.

BUT!!!!!

Hold your optimism, Vannie's about to tell you why you shouldn't get too excited about 2008.

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Bank It: E.J. Banks is Irish

The Irish received their second commitment from a defensive back when EJ Banks pledged to Charlie Weis on media day. Banks will join Marlon Pollard in next year's class. EJ plays quarterback but Notre Dame is recruiting him as a defensive back.

Here's ESPN on Banks:
Banks is a dual-threat quarterback with outstanding speed, acceleration and quickness as a runner and will end up likely at wide receiver, but many coaches are going to want to see how he'd turn out at corner first.Plays with confidence and is highly productive. He competes. Overall, Banks is an instinctive guy with very good overall tools and exceptional quickness and suddenness with the ball in his hands. Should make for a fine wide out or corner once he sees fulltime duty there.
I love this from Buckeye Planet (except for that last part)
I am EJ Banks' cousin, his father Edgar Banks is my first cousin...and yes, Joey Galloway is our cous from Bellaire Ohio...Aunt Carol and Uncle Deenie(his parents)...anyway, I think I can have info that may be useful for your site...from time to time...EJ is a excellent student-athlete who has accelerated his football and bball game to the almost elite Pittsburgh status...kinda bias I know...but, being really really real...E will be a steal to whomever signs him next year...and personally all of us here(his family) are telling him tOSU all the way...so when I get a scoop I will pass it along...hope to be back soon... Sonny RoxStar White
McKees Rox
Here's what Banks told the Pittsburgh Gazette:
“It means a lot to me to be going to Notre Dame,” Banks said. “I know that, when I graduate from there, a lot of doors will be opened for me that wouldn’t have been opened if I had chosen to go somewhere else. For football, it is a great place, but it is a lot more than that and all of that weighed into my decision.”

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Clausen Redux

For as much as he's been lampooned on this site, the South Bend Tribune's Jeff Carroll wrote a balanced article on this silly Clausen story, where he put the story in proper context, using perspective, something that was sorely missing from most accounts. Carroll and the SBT lead with the headline, "Spotlight Blitzes Clausen." Notice what's not there. No sensationalist wording. No mentions of "Investigations" or "teammates in the crosshairs." He actually fleshed out the story to something broader without pimping it for hits. I've been a critic of Carroll, but credit where credit is due.

Even The Big Lead acknowledged the absurdity of the story, citing none other than Jeff Carroll (screenshot on the right) and wrapping it up nicely with,
"Tough spot for the kid - he’s a virtual celebrity on campus, as is any QB at ND. Of course people are going to break out the cameras when he shows up at parties, and of course Clausen is going to attend parties, which college kids should do. Again, we find nothing wrong this photo - and we feel the same way about the Matt Leinart pictures that emerged earlier this year. Athletes unwind in the offseason, and often, this will - and should - include partying. Assuming the Clausen photos were not taken from August-December … where’s the beef?"

Notice how a little thoughtfulness and perspective change the entire story? That's why writers have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, especially ones who "break" a story, because their viewpoint will be parroted in papers and on television around that country. That's a lot of responsibility that directly affects a 20 year old's reputation. I have great affection for the Chicago Tribune, which is why it's so disturbing to see what looks like unbalanced reporting.

As Bob Chmiel writes (more eloquently than I) to Hamilton in Blue and Gold Illustrated's Troubled by the Trib about his reporting in the Tribune:

"And since you write for the paper I delivered, I had your back. But this week, I am just an old football coach who happens to write. There appears that there is some type of agenda, and today I am just a bit less proud of having thrown your paper on so many snowy porches a long, long time ago."

Where do we go from here? Not far. What we've learned from our posters is that Res Life doesn't get involved in off-campus issues unless the police were called. Of course, more to the point, there's no direct evidence of anything wrong. Sources inside Notre Dame say nothing needs to be done other than a verbal warning, which has been communicated to Clausen. In fact, if Notre Dame were to take action it would be treating Clausen different than it treats other students and that is highly unlikely.

In other words, it's a non-story except as a cautionary tale.

Let the season begin.

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2008 Expectations

Some posters on NDNation are already drinking the Kool Aid. The responses on our message boards range from the hopeful:

"Notre Dame is going to be really good, but with this schedule, they just have to be pretty good. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they have an undefeated showdown with USC over Thanksgiving weekend."

To the cynical:

"... what I know is how dreadful that 2007 team was. It shocked the senses with its awfulness. Any assessment of our chances in 2008, regardless of schedule, needs the sobering kick in the gut that was 2007 to be mitigation on our expectations. I expect no more than 7 wins."

I find myself in a schizophrenic state, vacillating between both points of view. Last year was truly the perfect storm with a green offensive line, a freshmen quarterback, a new defensive coordinator and a severe lack of leadership in the upper classes. That's what my rational mind looks at for hope. It also sees the incredible talent bubbling up from underneath (see Michael Floyd on the left) and that there's finally competition at most positions, but I can't stop replaying the misery that was last year in my head. Play this if you dare (turn the sound down.)




I just can't make the mental leap from last year's disaster to a great season this year.

Stepping outside of my warped mind, the USA Today coaches poll ranks Notre Dame behind five opponents this year (ND came in at #43)
2 USC
24 Michigan
31 BC
33 Pittsburgh
t39 MSU
t46 UNC
Given the close rankings, that probably equates to a 4-5 loss season from the coaches perspective.

Yet Notre Dame fans think we're going to have a 3-4 loss year based on the probability poll of more than 6,500 ND fans. Drum roll please... here are the results (with some eyeball interpolation.)

Notre Dame fans think that three games are absolute slam dunks:

San Diego State 97%
Navy 97%
Syracuse 97%

Two other games are high probability games:

Stanford 87%
Washington 83%

Four more games fell into the likely win column:

Purdue 70%
Pittsburgh 67%
North Carolina 65%
BC 60%

The Michigans are relative coin flips:

Michigan 55%
Michigan state 52%

USC is in the high probability loss group.

USC 15%

Looking across those probabilities, they equate to about a 3.5 loss season even though ND Fans believe the probability is in ND's favor in 11 of the 12 games. So the expectation is to win every game but one, but the reality is that given these probabilities, the season expectation is at a Gator Bowl level or worse.

******************* Insert from VA Domer *******************
I couldn't stop myself from doing some further statistical analysis. Based on the individual game probabilities SEE estimated from the polls, here are the total season probabilities:

X, WINS=X, WINS>=X
0 0.0% 100.0%
1 0.0% 100.0%
2 0.0% 100.0%
3 0.0% 100.0%
4 0.2% 100.0%
5 1.5% 99.8%
6 6.1% 98.3%
7 15.9% 92.2%
8 26.4% 76.3%
9 27.4% 49.9%
10 16.7% 22.4%
11 5.2% 5.7%
12 0.5% 0.5%

So, we're collectively expecting more like 3 losses.
******************* Insert from VA Domer *******************

What about talent? Chronicle on Cartier field took a look at the talent level of ND compared to its 2008 opponents using the following weightings:

2004 - 75% - 5th year seniors
2005 - 100%
2006 - 75%
2007 - 50%
2008 - 25% - Freshman

This yields a talent ranking of

USC-----------3.31
UM------------5.85
ND------------18.23 - (scout)
ND------------22.92 - (rivals)
UNC----------24.85
PITT----------29.46
WASH--------35.62
MSU----------37.38
STAN---------41.00
PURDUE-----42.23
BC------------47.08
CUSE---------49.31
SDST---------73.77
NAVY--------109.00

Bottom line is Michigan still has great talent (better than ours) and UNC is very close with Pitt slightly behind. BC looks bleak, almost tied with Syracuse. Based on talent alone, there would seem to be more than a couple close games.

So talent is definitely moving in Notre Dame's favor, but this also doesn't count defections in the upper classes which are very high for the Irish.

After looking at rankings, fan probability and talent, what about Vegas?

The over-under on Notre Dame's season is seven wins. So Vegas thinks we fans are a tad optimistic and has the Irish as underdogs to USC, Michigan State and North Carolina. We were underdogs to Michigan, but betting on the Irish has made Notre Dame a favorite.

What does it all mean?

We're likely going to be still too green and too inconsistent for a good season by Notre Dame standards, but this team will show flashes of the talent that's building underneath and set the table for a title run in 2009. Anything less than 7 wins has to be a disappointment. Anything more than 8 wins and the Irish are going to be on a magazine cover to start next season.

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The Tribune's Last Breath

Is this what it's come to?

The thing that struck me most about the recent "revelation" that underage athletes drink beer, which is what I learned from Brian Hamilton's recent "non-investigative" story around a picture he found on another website of Jimmy Clausen holding a cup of "maybe beer?" at a party, wasn't that it was exploitative, it was that there's no judgment at all left at the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune has become a Lampoon of itself.

There isn't just a lack of balance, there's a lack of anything tethering writers like Hamilton to their calling. Or maybe the calling just changed.

Regardless, I actually felt a little sad that it's come to this.

It was never this bad, trained writers clawing for hits, imitating TMZ.com for college sports by trolling for "possible stories" on the web. But Hamilton is the symptom.

With the slow, but steady demise of revenue for newspapers and television, Brian Hamilton represents what's left: bitter, angry, confused journalists doing whatever it takes to get hits. This is just embarrassing for the Tribune. It's like the journalistic compass went out the window. "Beergate" could actually make Jeff Carroll feel like a journalist. "I Googled Clausen and beer and 11,000 entries showed up."

The story is this: Hamilton found pictures from a 'gotcha' website showing Clausen having a good time drinking beer... wait a minute... holding a beer... wait a minute, how does Hamilton know it's beer at all? His journalistic instincts stoked... he called Notre Dame to alert the University of a possible "beer holding incident" and, I guess seriously, asked about university policy for underage beer drinking and announced an investigation. The University didn't say it was investigating (I've yet to hear about beer holding investigations,) but said "The office of Residence Life will investigate possible violations of university policies when it is made aware of them, such as in this case." Nice work Brian, an 11 year old with a computer and a cell phone could have done the same thing. If this is what he's getting paid for as a journalist, the Tribune should just create a fictitious byline and outsource Hamilton's job to the Philippines.

So, to be clear (unlike Hamilton,) the University doesn't necessarily think there's a case worth investigating here. Read the statement again, they don't mention the specifics of this "case" at all. That's a general quote for the masses. They are saying, that if you're alerting them to a possible incident that's in violation of university policy and you're not considered a crackpot (at least this last time) they'll investigate your claim... but not necessarily Clausen. In short, they're going to investigate whether your claim is worth investigating. But not only did the Tribune run the story on day one, but they ran a follow-up the next day.

Here's the headline the Tribune lead with today:

Irish QB Jimmy Clausen and at least two teammates face alcohol-use investigation

Web photo puts Irish QB, teammates in crosshairs

"Face alcohol-use investigation" is jumblespeak for "we don't know." Facing is a convenient, ambiguous word far too many media outlets throw around when there's a possibility of something happening, but they don't know if it's probable or unlikely, so they use facing to cover their bases and make it seem ominous. "Teammates in the crosshairs" is just sensationalist crap. This is the equivalent of a major market newspaper journalist trying to drum up hits like street hooker.

Hamilton has become the joke of the Internet. EDSBS is having a field day with this.

We believe we have found photos far more incirminating than those that led to your justified investigation of the shameful behavior of Jimmy HUSEIN Clausen. Please forward this to all your friends and family. Let them judge for themselves if this is what you want representing our country at quarterback. All of them can be found with the google and are REAL.







It's ironic that bloggers are the ones having to bring perspective to the traditional journalist world.

Even sillier, Hamilton didn't bother to investigate WHEN the photos were taken. And article number two (of this deep investigative series ) carried this disclaimer "No matter the date of the photos, at least two of the players would not be of legal drinking age." In other words, Hamilton didn't do any work at all. He found pictures on an Internet site, posted them and then called Notre Dame to create a story. He didn't ask himself basic questions such as, "Hey, why are they wearing jackets in August?" or "Jeepers, they aren't actually drinking a beer, is that a problem?" or "How can anyone actually prove there's beer in the cup?" Important questions, because I'm told that while this clearly looks like a game of flip-cup, the University can't take any punitive actions (even it wanted to) in a case like this because there are no pictures showing the players drinking. Something Hamilton should research, no?




Some funny headlines came out of it. Props to BallHype for this one: Even Jimmy Clausen's Beer Pong Balls Are Intercepted. The bottom line is that if Clausen wasn't out drinking, being a normal college kid, it would be odd to say the least. As one of our readers said, "I hope he's drinking Jack, Notre Dame needs more whisky drinkers."

I thought I'd give Hamilton a pass a few weeks ago when he noticed an Ad on NDNation featuring Clausen (completely against NCAA rules and unbeknownst to anyone but Hamilton) and alerted Notre Dame to create the story and then he immediately wrote a story about it, but this also came after he actually had to "make a phone call" (i.e. do some work) after having read an obvious April fools post on NDNation about Brey moving to Indiana and then write about that unprofessional NDNation making April Fool's jokes.

What I believe now is that he's just lazy, waiting on Internet controversy so that he can make a phone call, create a story where none existed and get hits on a blog, which may keep him around for a little longer, but have likely cemented his career ceiling. This is it, this is the big time, but his credibility is gone if it was ever there. There was an opportunity here to write a real article about the internet and judgment, but Hamilton takes the lazy way out.

Even if you're going to run a story like this, where's the balance or acknowledgement of the absurd? Is a college quarterback at a party where there's beer worthy of the Tribune's space? If they are going to run the story, doesn't the Tribune have an obligation to note that the picture appears dated? Of course it does. Leaving those obvious points out creates a better headline and more consumable story.

It's sad and it makes you angry that an adult who should know better is actually is willing to hurt a college kid for hits. But then, reading Hamilton's bio of himself that he wrote in third person, you have to wonder:

"In the summer of 2006, he wrote a profile of a plucky, under-the-radar recruit named Jimmy Clausen, giving the kid an infusion of much-needed publicity."

Hamilton made Clausen, he now must destroy him (there's humor there.)

Yes, he'll get short term hits, Clausen will receive no punishment because it ain't against policy to seemingly hold a seeming beer, but the Tribune is tarred again by more poor, sensationalist journalism.

As for Notre Dame, there was a time where even a non-story like this might have cowed the administration into feeling it needed to act, but most around the University seem to feel that the time of running for cover when a paper runs an intimidating headline is over. I'm going to make a prediction that no one will be talking about this story a week from now.

The adults are finally in charge in South Bend, I don't know who's running the Tribune anymore.

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The Probability Poll

For the second year in a row we're conducting The Probability Poll, an attempt to get a realistic look, game by game, of what the expectations are for Notre Dame's season. Take a moment and vote, it's your civic duty.

ND Takes Recruiting Title

It didn't take an MIT mathematician to know that Alabama's recruiting title rested on fuzzy math. The Tide signed 32 players in February which gave them the number one overall class in total points on both Rivals and Scout, but also put them over the scholarship limit of 85... 11 players over the limit.

Everyone knew the Tide was going to have attrition from that class and now it's happened. Two players, four and three star recruits Melvin Ray and Destin Hood, chose professional baseball.

Three other players, four star recruit Devonta Bolton, four star recruit Kerry Murphy and three star recruit Brandon Lewis are ineligible.

That attrition easily knocks the Tide down below or even with the Irish, who've had zero losses because Notre Dame vets recruits thoroughly before signing them, making Notre Dame number one in both average recruit ranking and overall point rankings assuming the math holds. The 2008 recruiting class is Notre Dame's first number one class since Lou picked grass nervously off the sidelines.

On the field performance has to follow, but there's no doubt that the young talent base is quickly building in South Bend.

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