So how do you feel this morning, frat boy? You're buttoning up your Tommy Bahama shirt, and you found your Rainbows under the bed. You've got a splitting headache and it doesn't seem as clever now as it did the night before, when your buddies dared you to put the moves on the shy girl in the corner. The one who was a little overweight, who wasn't dressed as cool as the other girls. Who really blushed when you started talking to her. She was glad of your attention and too nervous to decline the Cape Cods you kept bringing her. She didn't know how to react when you offered to walk her home as the party was winding down. She really didn't know how to react once her bedroom door closed and you pulled her close. You used her, made her your dirty girl for the night, and now as you sneak out the door and look back at the bed, you can't even look her in the face. Instead you notice the bright stains on the sheets. You're pretty sure she's still asleep, but just before the door clicks shut you hear her ask, "Will you call me?" Yeah, jerk, she actually likes you. Down the hall and through the kitchen, her house mates give you cold stares as you head back to your dorm.
Are you really going to brag about this? Can you really look yourself in the mirror and be proud of your conquest?
Yeah, I'm talking to you Louisville (defeated Murray State 73-10). You too, Rutgers (defeated Buffalo 38-3). When you run the table on your schedules, are you really going to count these games as "wins"? Are you going to claim you deserve to play in a BCS Bowl game because you humiliated two of the worst teams in college football? Heck, most of the Top 25 ought to be ashamed. USC opens with Idaho. I honestly expect the Trojans to score 100 points in that game. West Virginia plays Western Michigan. Texas plays Arkansas State. Michigan hosts Appalachian State. Urban Meyer's Florida gators are really putting it all on the line, beginning their title defense against Western Kentucky. The Ohio State Buckeyes renew their intrastate rivalry against Div I-AA power Youngstown State (actually, it's the first meeting between these schools). The Penn State Nittany Lions open against Florida International University, generally expected to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference.
These programs, all of which hope to be considered "elite" when January rolls around, ought to be ashamed of themselves. Writing checks to doormat programs to guarantee yourselves a nice home "win" to start the season is not the way "elite" programs should operate.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I realized earlier today that I've been so busy with other things that I haven't joined any NFL fantasy football leagues for this season. So I have created a custom league at ESPN.com. I'm in, my brother is in, my son is in, and MAYBE my Dad will give it a shot. At any rate, we'll have six or seven open slots for any OC Domer readers who would like to join.
I set it up as an auto-pick league, since there is no way I can coordinate a live draft for a group of ten random people who could be located anywhere in the world (even Poland!). Draft will take place early Tuesday morning, so you have all weekend (3-day weekend) to rank your players before the draft. I've tweaked the scoring a bit so be sure to take it into account when preparing for the draft.
If you'd like to enter a league with a bunch of newbies (myself included), send me an e-mail (my e-mail address is in my "profile" linked to the right) and I'll have one of the league invites sent to you.
Mr. Jones and me staring at the videoSpeculation about who will start as Notre Dame's quarterback against Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon has just about reached a fevered pitch. Whispers and rumors right now seem to be coalescing around Demetrius Jones. I have said all along that I thought it would be Evan Sharpley, based upon his time in the system and what we are told is his better command of the offense and better passing in the Spring and in Fall camp. Sharpley would be the safe play. He would be the conservative pick.
When I look at the television,
I want to see me
staring right back at me
We all want to be big stars,
but we don't know why
and we don't know how
But when everybody loves me,
I'm going to be
just about as happy as can be
Mr. Jones and me, we're gonna be big stars...
But we know there is just a little bit of a riverboat gambler deep inside Charlie Weis. Well, maybe not so deep inside. And the riverboat gambler play is Demetrius Jones. Although the public hasn't been allowed to see it, Jones is by all accounts a charismatic playmaker. Coach Weis has said when you don't have dominant personnel you don't want a "caretaker" at quarterback. You don't want a game manager. When you have inexperienced personnel, or when the talent level isn't going to roll over opponents, you need to have a playmaker at QB if you're going to have a chance to win more than the games you're "supposed to" win.
Jones may be that guy. It would seem unusual for Coach Weis to turn the reins over to a QB who has been erratic in his few public playing opportunities (Blue & Gold Game, Fan Appreciation Day, Student Appreciation Day). His modus operandi until now has been control the ball, move the chains, play field position, don't turn it over. If he turns to Jones, I think we're going become the midwestern equivalent of the Bronx Bombers. We aren't going to be playing station-to-station baseball anymore. We're going to be playing long ball. Coach Weis will be looking to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers and have them make BIG plays.
Which means we're going to see a lot of the young guys very soon. Like Armando Allen and Golden Tate returning kicks. Like Allen and Robert Hughes in the backfield. We'll see Duval Kamara catching passes. I think we'll see Jones on the move in a scheme with a distinct Appalachian flavor. Coach Weis would not have visited West Virginia without a very good reason.
"Outhouse or Castle" was the phrase Coach Weis used in describing his decision to put two freshmen back to receive kicks. As he said, "something big is going to happen." Whether it will be something big in a good way or a bad way remains to be seen. If Weis goes with Jones, the whole season could be "outhouse or castle." We could be a big-play team that wins some huge upsets. Or we could very dramatically implode. Either way, it will be very exciting.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
When I first fired up OC Domer I sent the folks at DomeWire.com a couple of e-mails, to see if they wanted to include the blog and our posts in their coverage of Notre Dame football. It seems somebody finally opened up the in-box, because today they threw up links to more than two dozen OC Domer posts and added us to their list of Notre Dame blogs.
So, welcome DomeWire readers!
And thanks, DomeWire, for the links!
(I'll be adding DomeWire to the OC Domer blogroll ASAP!)
Do we really have to start reading and listening to all this crap again? From an article in the Washington Times which asks: Is USC's defense the "The Best Ever Assembled"?
"You watch their tapes, and you don't know whether to laugh or cry," said Dennis Erickson, beginning his first season with Arizona State after superb stints at Washington State (1987-88), Miami (1989-94) and Oregon State (1999-2002). "Their defense is like a horror film for opponents. I coached some pretty special groups at Miami, but I think USC's group this year is on another level."
Over the last two decades, three college defenses — 1992 Alabama, 2001 Miami and 2003 USC — have sent nine or more starters to the NFL. Thanks to an unprecedented three consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes, USC's current crew has equal experience, more speed and considerably more depth than any of those three.
"There is no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country and maybe the best team in the history of college football," first-year Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "They're outstanding offensively and absolutely off the charts defensively."
But of course, Stanford bows down to no one, right Coach Harbaugh?
Actually, if you read the article you can't help but think that USC's defense could present a bit of a problem to opposing offenses. Even those with a genius calling the plays.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Intro. As I wrote in yesterday's post, I am not close enough to the program or knowledgeable enough about football talent, systems, and match-ups to "predict" what will happen as the Fighting Irish play through the 2007 schedule. But as an alumnus, a very interested observer, and devoted fan of Notre Dame football I definitely have some expectations about what we'll see from this team in Charlie Weis' third year at the helm. A lot has been written about the success great Notre Dame coaches have had in their third year, but I do not put too much stock in it in Coach Weis' case. Previous coaches taking over the program at least had significant talent on the roster to work with. Using better coaching, the likes of Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz were able to win championships using a lot of the players brought into the program by their predecessors. As much of a disappointment as Gerry Faust was, his recruiting classes were generally very highly regarded. Coach Weis had to follow Ty Willingham. The senior class is very small and the talent level in that class is not up to Notre Dame standards. Compounding the issue is that Coach Weis and his staff got a very late start on their first recruiting class. Although they did a pretty good salvage job, that class was not very big and is not ranked as highly as the next two classes were. Thus, while my expectations for this team are high, I think expectations of a run at the National Championship are unrealistic. Without further ado, here is how I see 2007 unfolding.
Georgia Tech (Sept. 1 @ Home). It's hard to get a good read on the Yellow Jackets. I've seen them ranked as high as #14 in the country (Athlon Sports), but most pre-season rankings have them in the low-to-mid 30's, typically just a few spots above the Irish. The latest AP poll has them at #27 (ND is #38). The USA Today/Coaches Poll also has GT at #27 (Irish are #29). But, of course, despite everyone ranking GT ahead of Notre Dame, the Irish head into the opener as a 2.5 point favorite with the odds makers. Go figure. It's easy to dismiss the Yellow Jackets, but it would be a mistake. They won the Coastal Division of the ACC last season, beating out a very good Virginia Tech squad for the honor. Ironically, almost everyone expects improved quarterback play for GT now that four-year starter Reggie Ball has moved on. The loss of All-Universe wide receiver Calvin Johnson certainly hurts the Ramblin' Wreck, but aside from losing Ball and Johnson they bring almost everyone else back from last year's talented team. The Irish defensive front seven will be facing a talented and veteran offensive line and will have to try to stop a very highly regarded running back in senior Tashard Choice (1,473 rushing yards in 2006). Likewise, the Tech defense returns eight starters and will have a significant advantage in experience over the Irish quarterback, running backs, and receivers. It's easy to forget that Notre Dame was trailing Georgia Tech 10-0 last year before the Irish finally got on the board with a quarterback draw from the 5-yard line with 11 seconds remaining in the first half. Notre Dame was able to take Calvin Johnson out of play in the second half with some defensive adjustments, and we squeaked out a 14-10 win.
Tech will probably be a better team this season than they were last year. The returning experience from a very good team, improved QB play, and a more balanced offensive attack led by Choice will make them better on offense. The defense will be improved by virtue of maturity. Have the Irish gotten better? I believe Corwin Brown will revitalize the defense. Choice will get his yards, but we'll keep the Tech passing game largely under control. On offense, the Irish will have to be able to run the ball early and often. GT defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is an evil genius of the blitz and will feast on our young quarterbacks if we get ourselves into "must pass" situations. If we can mix pass/run on our own terms, and not on Tenuta's terms I think we win it. As I wrote yesterday, it all comes down to how our offensive line plays. If we can control the line of scrimmage and neutralize Tech's blitzing schemes with an effective power running game, we'll be successful.
Two factors weigh heavily in our favor for this opening game. The first is the "Talent Gap." Irish Round Table had a very nice post recently setting forth the differences in talent level between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, using star rankings from Rivals.com. By some measures, the disparity in talent between these two programs is greater than the difference between Notre Dame and USC last season. Star rankings may not mean much in an individual case, but on a more macro level I think you have to give it some credence.
The second factor is historical. I wrote at length recently about how Notre Dame quarterbacks have done over the years in their first start. Whoever Coach Weis has chosen, I like our chances. According to my research, Notre Dame quarterbacks making their first ever start in a season opener are 11-0 in my lifetime. (I originally had it as 12-0, but a reader correctly identified Joe Theisman's first start as being late in the 1968 season rather than the 1969 opener). Add in the fact that we play this game in our house, and I am confident of a Notre Dame win. I expect a close game, relatively low scoring, Irish win by a touchdown. Call it 24-17.
Penn State (Sept. 8 @ State College). The Irish leave the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium and travel to the middle of
nowhere Pennsylvania to take on the Nittany Lions, who will be coming off an opening bye week scrimmage game against Florida International. The strength of Penn State's team figures to be its offense. Senior Anthony Morelli returns at quarterback, as do most of his receivers. But the starters at running back are unproven, and PSU is rebuilding the left side of it's offensive line, even bringing in some JUCO players to help them out. The defense will likely be good, but not as good as last year. The defensive line and secondary will see a lot of new faces. Matching the Lions up against the Irish, we see Morelli and his experienced receiving corps passing against the strength of the Irish defense, our secondary. Our linebackers and D-line should be able to handle their new starters at RB. On the other side of the ball, our offensive line should have it's way with a very young defensive front, and our young QB and receivers should be an even match against PSU's rebuilt secondary.
We blew out PSU (41-17) in our place last season. While the Irish were clearly the better team, we weren't THAT much better. Notre Dame did a great job of making the Lions pay when they turned the ball over, and it got out of control pretty quickly. I don't expect an Irish blowout again. Notre Dame played PSU for twelve straight seasons from 1981 through 1992. In that stretch, three games were "blowouts". (ND by 37 in 1984, PSU by 30 in 1985, PSU by 22 in 1991). Two out three times the loser in the blowout came back the following year and won the game. (PSU in 1985 and ND in 1992).
Is it just me, or does Penn State seem way overrated to you? The pre-season AP poll has them at #17. The USA Today Coaches poll has them at #18. For a team that has significant holes to fill on both the offensive and defensive lines, they seem to be getting a lot of love. I thing we match up really well with Penn State. Our offensive line will control the line of scrimmage, and we will run the ball right at them very effectively. The young secondary will begin to over-commit to the run game, and Sharpley will victimize them with big plays over the top. On defense, our front seven controls the run and gets decent pressure on Morelli, making it tough to make plays down the field against our DBs. Our defense will be disruptive enough to force a couple of turnovers, but first-big-game-on-the-road-jitters will probably lead to a fumble or two from the Irish as well. By and large we control the line of scrimmage, although Morelli makes a few plays. I expect a workman-like win by Notre Dame, 21-13. The loss drops PSU out of the Top 25, and Notre Dame cracks the polls for the first time.
Michigan (Sept. 15 @ Ann Arbor). Have Chad Henne and Mike Hart not earned their PhDs yet? Michigan is ranked #5 in both the AP and USA Today polls, and indications are that they deserve to be there. Michigan opens the season with Appalachian State (seriously) and then Oregon (both at home). I think Oregon will play well enough to put a little scare into the Wolverines (who may be looking ahead) and we will see an opponent with renewed focus. The Irish travel to the Big House to take on a team that whipped them 47-21 last season in Notre Dame stadium, and most of the pieces on Michigan's very potent offense remain in place. Henne, Hart, and Mario Manningham figure to pose a serious test for the Notre Dame defense, even though the Wolverines are rebuilding the right side of their offensive line with the latest crop of 300-pounders. Notre Dame will probably be able to move the ball against Michigan, as the Wolverines return only 4 starters on that side of the ball. The question is whether we can move the ball enough to outscore a UM offense that figures to hang some points on us.
Notre Dame has played Michigan 23 times since World War II (starting in 1978). ND is 12-10-1 over that stretch. Only twice in those 23 games has the margin of victory been greater than 20 points. (2003 and 2006). In fact, wins by more than ten points in this series (since WWII) are somewhat unusual, having occurred in only 7 of those 23 games (including the two 20+ pt. blowouts). 16 of 23 games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. In the six 10+ point victories, the losing team has come back the following year to win the game four times and earned a tie one time. Only once has the loser by more than 10 points (UM in 1987) failed to come back and win the game the next year (1988). Even an unranked Ty Willingham team was able to beat UM 28-20 in 2004 after losing 38-0 in 2003.
I expect Notre Dame's defense to have trouble with Michigan's O-line. UM should be able to run against the Irish with the power game, and a pass rush that has trouble pressuring Henne will leave the secondary vulnerable to some big plays. On offense, I think the running game that was successful against GT and PSU will bog down, and we'll be forced to go to the air pitting our young QB and receivers against UM's very young secondary. If the O-line can give our QB some time, I like that match up. In the end, although I expect it to be a close game, I think the Wolverines control the line of scrimmage. We lose the field position battle because we can't kick the ball into the end zone. We also get bit because we miss at least two very makeable field goal attempts. If Demetrius Jones hasn't played much at QB before now, I expect that our need for a playmaker will cause Coach Weis to insert him in the second or third quarters to bring a spark to the offense and throw UM's defense off balance. It's another epic game in the series, but the Irish fall by less than a touchdown, 30-24.
Michigan State (Sept. 22 @ Home). I respect Michigan. I respect USC. But I can't stand the Spartans. There is no logical reason for Sparty to have as much success against Notre Dame as they have enjoyed, but like old gum you just can't scrape them off the bottom of your shoe. The Irish, behind a heroic effort from Brady "Can't Win the Big Game" Quinn came back from a 16-point deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter to break the Spartans' little green hearts and send their coach to the asylum, all in a torrential rain. After the debacle against Notre Dame in front of their home crowd, Michigan State went off the rails. They have a new coach, a new quarterback, are learning a new system, and are picked by many to finish tenth of eleven teams in the Big , er, Ten? They return to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since planting their vile flag in the turf there following a victory over the Irish in 2005, Coach Weis' first year. Regardless of personnel, regardless of match-ups, I expect Notre Dame to crush the Spartans every year. MSU will run the ball against us behind a very big O-line, but the new QB will struggle in his first big test, facing the hostile Notre Dame crowd on the road after games against UAB, Bowling Green, and Pittsburgh at home. The Irish offense will run the ball outside against undersized defensive ends and will pass at will against young cornerbacks along the sidelines. The Irish are excited to be back home and explode on Sparty, winning 35-17.
Purdue (Sept. 29 at West Lafayette). In a classic case of good news / bad news, the Boilermakers look to return nine starters on each side of the ball. The offense expects to be very dynamic in the spread passing game, with a speed running game largely as a complement. This match-up seems to be a good one for the Irish, who have much improved depth in the secondary and who have switched to a 3-4 scheme with emphasis on more speed at LB. The key will be whether Corwin Brown's defense can generate enough pass rush to prevent veteran QB Curtis Painter from picking the secondary apart. On the other side of the ball, the pundits basically label Purdue as "soft." The phrase "pushed around" gets used a lot. This plays right into Notre Dame's new smash-mouth philosophy on offense. The Irish play keep-away, control the ball and shove it down the Boilermakers' throats. Time of possession is very lopsided in Notre Dame's favor in a slightly lower-scoring replay of last year's game. Irish win 31-20, while trying not to look ahead to Pasadena.
UCLA (Oct. 6 @ The Rose Bowl). With a 42-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to Samardzija with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, the Fighting Irish salvaged an important comeback win over the Bruins in last year's matchup in South Bend, 20-17. Quinn is gone. Samardzija is gone. This year the game is being played in the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. And almost every Bruin who had to swallow last year's bitter pill will be back to right what they undoubtedly feel was a horrible wrong. UCLA is ranked #14 in the AP pre-season poll, and #17 in the USA Today poll. They return ten (10) starters on both offense and defense from a team that shocked the world with a 13-9 win over the USC Trojans in Pasadena last season. They held the Trojans to just 9 points with a fast, aggressive defense that refused to let Trojan QB John David Booty get comfortable in the pocket. Credit Quinn's modest success against this defense to his incredible maturity and experience, which none of the current Notre Dame quarterbacks have accrued yet. A glimmer of hope can be taken from UCLA's inconsistent play last year. Despite a win over USC and a near win over Notre Dame, UCLA lost at Washington, at Oregon, against Washington State, at California, and in the Emerald Bowl against Florida State. So they have a history of losing focus and losing games they should win. Do you think the Bruins will lack focus when Notre Dame comes to call?
UCLA hosts the Irish the week after a road trip to Oregon State, which can be a very tough place to play. The Beavers likely catch the Bruins looking ahead and either beat them or put a real scare into them. The Notre Dame game is by far the biggest game on the Bruin schedule up to that point, and they follow our game with a bye week. They are going to be ready for us, and they are going to have one thing on their minds: Payback.
The Bruin offense is nothing special. Solid QB, solid RB, solid receivers, but nobody that strikes fear into opponents' hearts. The question will be whether the Irish offense can get anything done against that defense, which played it's best ball late in the season. This is another game that highlights the importance of the offensive line this season. To neutralize UCLA's defensive speed and take advantage of an undersized, though quick, front seven the O-line needs to take control of this game and we have to be able to ram the ball down the Bruins' throats. Big, strong running backs like Travis Thomas, James Aldridge, and Robert Hughes need to bring the lumber. We won't be able to outrun the defenders to the perimeter. Screens and draws won't work. We need to go right at them and run over them. Then, when the linebackers are committed to stopping the run, and the defensive backfield starts cheating up to help out, we can take some shots in the passing game. If the offensive line can establish control of the line of scrimmage, then we can win this game. If not, if we get behind or are forced by down and distance to drop back and throw, then we are in trouble.
This game worries me. It is one of a pair of swing games in the middle of the season (along with Boston College) which will largely determine how successful Notre Dame's season is. Win both, and a 10-win season is very possible. Lose both and eight wins becomes the best case scenario. Split them and we're likely 9-3. I think we split them. I think the Irish arrive in Pasadena excited about the chance to play in the historic Rose Bowl, but tired. It's the sixth straight game without a break on a schedule that is brutally tough. We have a young team, and it's the second straight game on the road. We're probably a little banged up. UCLA will be jacked up and the Irish will be unable to match their intensity. The game will be close, but a couple of key turnovers to DeWayne Walker's defense and failure to cash in on stalled drives with field goals means the Irish lose a close one, 24-21.
Boston College (Oct. 13 @ Home). The game against BC is the second of the two swing games in the middle of the season that worry me. The Eagles are ranked #28 in the AP poll and #26 in the USA Today poll. They had a nice 10-3 campaign last season in what was really a down year for the ACC. They bring back a decent quarterback in Matt Ryan who played much of last year with a broken foot. They were 50th in the nation in total offense and 34th in total defense. They have a new head coach after Tom O'Brien bolted for N.C. State. I expect Notre Dame's new defensive scheme to be in full bloom by this point in the season and handle the Eagles' quality but not dynamic offense without much difficulty. On offense, we're going to have to change things up and win this one through the air, as there will little room to run. Boston College expects to start two defensive tackles that weigh in at 343 and 337 pounds, and the linebackers are a veteran group that is stout against the run.
Since I anticipate a likely loss at UCLA, I think the Irish bounce back with a solid win and a very balanced performance against BC. Footballs will be in the air and we'll see some scoring. Notre Dame 31, Boston College 17.
[NOTE: If the Irish pull out the win at UCLA, then the BC game is a potential trap game. A letdown after a UCLA win, plus looking ahead to the Trojans a week away would likely mean a Notre Dame loss.]
Southern California (Oct. 20 @ Home). Everyone's pre-season #1 comes to South Bend for Notre Dame's eighth straight game without a bye. Thanks Dr. White! The Trojans are loaded. Although UCLA caught lightning in a bottle and shocked the Trojans last year, this is still a team that beat the Brady Quinn-led Irish by 20 points last season and who embarassed Michigan in the Rose Bowl 32-18 (that was the Michigan team that beat the Irish by 26 points). Although they return only 5 starters on offense, those five include the QB, John David Booty, who is being hyped for the Heisman Trophy. They have 5-star Blue-Chippers coming out of their ears, including
10 9 tailbacks that could likely start for almost any team in the country. They return ten starters on a defense that many predict will be Coach Pete Carroll's best ever. The good news is that the NCAA has turned down Coach Carroll's petition to allow USC to put more players on the field in order to give all their talent an opportunity to play. So he has to live with only playing 11 guys at a time.
Do the Irish have a chance? I mentioned previously how unusual blowouts are in the ND-Michigan series. The opposite is true for Notre Dame and USC. The Fighting Irish and the Trojans have played each other 61 times since World War II (resuming play in 1946). Notre Dame is 32-25-4 in those games. Of those 61 games, 19 games had a margin of victory of 20 points or more - almost 1/3 of the time! Of those 19 blowouts, the losing team has come back the following season to earn a win 8 times and a tie 1 time. Thus, nearly half the time a team gets blown out in this series (since WWII) they redeem themselves the following year. So a Notre Dame win is not at all out of the realm of possibility.
I know Coach Weis would sorely like to find a way to get this series turned around, to get back the one that got away in 2005. But I think the talent gap is still too large, especially with regard to experienced players. When Brady Quinn & Co. almost beat the Trojans in 2005 he was in his third year of playing quarterback full time. This year we'll be led by a player in his first year, and possibly in one of his first games depending on how the season plays out. I think we will have more success with the power running game, enabling us to control the ball a little better and display a more balanced attack. I think the defense will be improved and the secondary will make USC work harder for their touchdowns. I think the "gap" is closing. (Shall we name it the "Davie-Willingham Gap"?) I think the game is undecided at half time, but the Trojans talent and depth eventually wear us down and we lose by just under two touchdowns, 30-17.
And then we get our bye week. Better late than never?
Navy (Nov. 3 @ Home). I think it's good that we continue to honor Navy because of all they did for Notre Dame during the war years. But Coach Weis doesn't fool around with these lesser foes. The Irish beat the Middies soundly but respectfully, 35-10.
Air Force (Nov. 10 @ Home). No disrespect to the Cadets or the USAFA (my Dad is a '63 graduate of the Academy), but when did they become a permanent fixture on the Notre Dame schedule? I'd like to see if we couldn't replace them with another mid-major. Irish beat the zoomies soundly but respectfully, 34-16.
Duke (Nov. 17 @ Home). I wish Duke was better. Duke, along with Notre Dame, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Northwestern, and a few others are among those schools that are ranked among the best academic schools in the nation and who also field Div-IA football teams. I like the idea of these similar schools playing each other and supporting each other's programs, sort of like the Ivy League but with 4- and 5-star players. Alas, Duke is most assuredly NOT better and we beat the Blue Devils handily, 48-13.
Stanford (Nov. 24 @ The Farm). Stanford is better than Duke, barely. I actually expect new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh to do some good things in Palo Alto. But it's going to take a while. His team went 1-11 last year and Stanford has no easy W's on the schedule. Notre Dame controls both side of the line of scrimmage (as well as the ball) and starts running out the clock midway through the second quarter. Irish 38, Stanford 16.
Bowl Game. At 9 wins and 3 losses, the Irish don't get selected to go to a BCS Bowl, and instead get to play in a respectable bowl game against an opponent they can beat. Having solved our big-play problems on defense, and having healed up from the brutal first eight weeks of the schedule, Notre Dame handily wins it's first bowl game since New Year's Day of 1994.
Final Results: With young but talented players all over the field, and with new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown, the Irish basically win the games they won and lose the games they lost in 2006 (UCLA being the exception). But we don't get blown out by anyone. We aren't a Top 5 program yet, but at 10-3 overall, we end up just outside the Top 10 in the final polls of the season. Entering 2008 we are a Top 10 team fighting to become an elite Top 5 program.
Conclusion. So, this is how I see the season playing out. Is it a prediction? Not really. It's just a thorough explanation of where I see the program and what I think I'm going to see. Might Charlie's Fighting Irish exceed my expectations? They could. The offensive line could be dominant, the QB play spectacular, the young receivers amazing. The front seven could be energetic AND stout. We could beat Michigan and UCLA, we might even surprise everyone with an improbable win over the Trojans. On the other hand, the O-line might not be what we need it to be. The young QBs and receivers might sputter. The front seven might give up too many yards in the running game. If that happens, we could lose to Georgia Tech, Penn State, MSU and BC. It could be a disaster. But, as one sage once said "That's why they play the games."
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Intro. It seems to be a standing requirement that if you write a Notre Dame football blog, you have to make pre-season predictions. I'm not a fortune teller. I'm not even a good gambler, especially when it comes to the Fighting Irish, since I usually bet with my heart and then watch in horror as my heart gets ripped out of my chest and trampled under hoof by a wolverine riding a white horse. But enough about my dreams/nightmares. Let's just say that I know so little about the team Charlie Weis will be putting on the field a week from today that I can't type the word "prediction" with a straight face. So I don't have "predictions." But I do have some expectations, based upon what we saw from the Irish over the past two seasons, what we have seen and heard from the media, and the precious few opportunities we have had to actually see real Notre Dame football players engaging in various football-like activities during the Spring and Fall.
General Expectations: Offense. With the loss of most of our key skill-position players from last year(Quinn, Shark, McKnight, Walker) we know that whoever throws, catches, or carries the ball for the Irish will be somewhere in the neighborhood of "extremely inexperienced." Nowhere is this more true than at the quarterback position. I have written before that I think Sharpley begins the season at QB, and then likely gives way to either Clausen or Jones depending upon how well the offensive line is blocking and how healthy Clausen is. However it plays out, Notre Dame will have a brand new QB who is likely to be very well prepared, but completely untested. The receiving corps is equally as raw. David Grimes was the #3 receiver for most of last season and played solidly. Expectations are that he enters this season as the #1 WR. That is a big jump, and it will be interesting to see if he can take his game to the next level. Lining up with Grimes will be multiple young receivers with little or no playing time but loads of talent. It will be interesting to see which of the young wideouts can fight their way onto the field, and if they can live up to all the hype that has surrounded Coach Weis' recruiting classes.
The tight end position is not nearly as unsettled as QB and WR. John Carlson is a pre-season All-American candidate with ample experience and great hands. Carlson will no doubt be the favorite target of whoever Coach Weis taps as the trigger-man in his offense. At running back, the Irish are expected to lead with Travis Thomas, who returns to the offense after playing last year at linebacker. TT is a physical back with decent speed and a bad attitude. He hits the hole hard and he has no intention of stopping until he finds the end zone. I wrote when TT was brought back to the offense that I believed it to be a leadership move more than a football move. I meant that while Travis is a good, solid running back, he is probably not the most talented back on the roster. After all, Darius Walker pushed him down the depth chart. The Irish probably have at least two, if not three, running backs who will eventually be getting more carries than Thomas. But Travis Thomas is a big-time football player. He plays hard, and he practices hard. He hits the weight room hard. He is an excellent role model for how the running back position is supposed to be played at this level. The leadership he brings to the running back position is invaluable. Eventually, I expect Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and possibly James Aldridge to begin cutting into TT's carries. When they do, it will be because Travis Thomas taught them how to prepare and to play big-time football. At end of the day, we have ample talent at running back, although most of it is very young, and we have for the first time in the Weis era several players in the backfield who have true home-run capability.
Which brings us to the offensive line. I think most Irish fans are in agreement that the play of the O-line last season was pretty underwhelming. How often did we see Brady Quinn making plays with defensive linemen or blitzing linebackers breathing down his neck or draped over his back? Far too often. How many times, on fourth-and-short, did Notre Dame run a QB sneak? If your best power running play in short yardage situations is the QB sneak, your O-line is not getting the job done. How many times did Darius Walker make a spectacular run in just getting back to the line of scrimmage rather than taking a three-yard loss?
We don't have Brady Quinn at quarterback any more. We don't have Darius Walker, who could see disaster coming through the line and side-step it like a matador. We have three inexperienced quarterbacks who will need time to throw the ball. If they aren't given time, we will see interceptions, fumbles, and sacks. We have largely inexperienced running backs who will need actual holes to run through. If those holes aren't there, we'll see negative-yardage runs and fumbles in the backfield.
In short, Notre Dame's fortunes this year are riding on the offensive line. We have to be able to reliably run the ball for 4 yards or more on first and second downs. We can't be in third-and-long situations. Third and long means an all-out pass rush, with young running backs trying to pick up the blitzers, and a young QB throwing the ball down field to young receivers trying to find a soft spot in the nickel or dime zone defense. That is not a high percentage situation. We have to be able to mix pass and run as we choose to, not have it dictated to us by the down-and-distance situation. On short yardage, we don't want our young QBs running the sneak. We want to give the ball to TT, or Schwapp, or Aldridge, or Hughes and know that we can get two yards. Obviously, in the passing game, the QB will need more time to throw than Brady Quinn had last year. If the offensive line can control the line of scrimmage, if the Irish can run the ball with authority rather than finesse, then I think we can have a very good year.
But John Latina had better make sure his resume is current. Because if the O-line fails to produce this year, he will be next year's Rick Minter.
My expectations on offense are that we will see a nastier, more physical offensive line. We will see a team that is committed to running the ball with authority within a very balanced offensive attack. Ball control passing game featuring the tight ends, with the occasional surprise shots down the field. No more draw plays. The QB will be expected to manage the game in the Tom Brady / New England Patriots mode. He will not be expected to carry the team. If the defense plays well enough to keep the offense from having to play catch-up or drive the ball 90 yards, then we'll score enough points to win.
Personnel wise, I expect Evan Sharpley to surprise everyone with his play. I think he'll play well enough that it will make it very hard for Clausen to get on the field. I expect Demetrius Jones to get some playing time to see what he can do, and I expect to see him get spot duty in a couple of Coach Weis' "personnel groups." Possibly a goal-line package and an occasional West-Virginia package just to keep the defenses guessing. I expect to see a lot of running backs. TT, Junior Jabbie, Aldridge, Allen, Hughes will all get carries to see what they can do, and I expect the freshmen to carry an increasing share of the load. I expect to see more speed and more big plays after missed tackles.
Bottom line on offense - I think we'll see a more balanced, conservative offensive attack that will be able to keep us in games if the defense holds up it's end of the bargain. I don't expect to see any offensive heroics and dramatic come from behind wins like last year at Michigan State. If we turn the ball over or give up big plays on defense and get in a deep hole, we'll be in trouble. If we get into must-pass situations the odds will tip toward the defenses we face and things could get ugly. But if games stay close (or we get ahead) I expect the offense to be more than adequate to the task.
General Expectations: Defense. Two words - Corwin Brown. One of the reasons Notre Dame fans are so happy with Charlie Weis is that he "gets it." As a Domer himself, Charlie gets Notre Dame tradition, he gets the Notre Dame way. When he first got the head coaching job at Notre Dame one of his very few mistakes was hiring Rick Minter. Ironically, that error was due to the fact that Coach Weis was possibly too respectful of Notre Dame tradition and wanted to have some coaches on the staff with ties to Notre Dame. Unfortunately, as recent experience most painfully demonstrates, "Notre Dame experience" does not always equate to "great coach." Too frequently we heard players and coaches talk about confusion with assignments (especially in the secondary) and about how hard it is to play fast when you're trying to think too much. Rick Minter's schemes were apparently too convoluted and complex for the players to internalize enough to become second nature.
The buzz around Corwin Brown is that the players are all excited to play in his new "3-4 personnel" scheme. We're hearing a lot about playing hard, flying around the ball, and making plays. We're also hearing about fitting the scheme to the players rather than fitting the players into a scheme. But despite all the enthusiasm, we haven't seen anything yet. The defense remains a huge question mark. It does seem, based upon the dramatically increased success we are having in defensive recruiting this cycle, that Coach Brown does know how to connect with and motivate young men. We can only hope that his ability to reach these guys emotionally will translate into improved results on the field. In Corwin We Trust.
Based upon returning personnel I expect the secondary to be the strength of the defense. Zibby is back for another year after injury led to disappointing play last season. David Bruton is expected to bring more range and big play ability to the free-safety position, and the young corners should really come into their own. Add in talented depth that will enable the DBs to stay fresh and run nickel and dime packages when warranted and we will should see far fewer cheap touchdowns caused by broken coverage in the secondary.
If the secondary is more "don't break", I expect the front seven to supply the "bend." The change to the 3-4 will be most dramatic for these guys, and it remains to be seen how good the fit is between players recruited for a 4-3 and this new system. After studs Trevor Laws and Pat Kuntz depth and experience are real concerns on the defensive line, and Kuntz is not very big for a nose tackle. While the Irish have returning experience at inside linebacker (Crum and Brockington) plus some depth there, outside linebackers will likely be guys who will be really tested for the first time.
Bottom line on defense - I expect to see a defense that is improved overall from last year. Better play in the secondary will reduce the number of big plays allowed, and we'll see more turnovers generated by interceptions and big-hit fumbles. In the front seven I expect that we'll have a hard time matching up against talented offensive lines. Teams with big lines and good backs are going to be able to run the ball against us. We'll give up yards on the ground, but few big plays. Because of better team speed and a more aggressive scheme, we'll see a better pass rush, more sacks, more fumbles produced. With four quicker backers we'll see better underneath pass coverage, helping out the secondary. As I hinted at above, I see a "bend but don't break" defense that will also flash some real big play ability.
General Expectations: Special Teams. Why oh why can't the most storied program in college football history find a kicker? With kickoffs pushed back, I expect very few touchbacks and for opposing offenses to once again start their possessions at the 30-yard line. By the same token, the opposition will likely see fewer touchbacks as well, giving Notre Dame's young talent a real opportunity for big plays in the kick return game. I expect at least two kick returns for Irish TDs this year. I expect placekicking to be a 50-50 proposition inside 35 yards, and a prayer beyond that. The punt game will be great with Geoff Price kicking and Zibby returning (although I would try to find another punt returner given what happened to Tommy Z last year).
What Does It All Mean? I expect a more conservative, balanced ball control offense with a very effective running game and occasional big plays in the passing game. I expect an improved and talented defense with big play ability that no longer gives up long touchdown passes to receivers running wide open down the seam, although we're going to have trouble slowing down teams committed to grinding it out on the ground. Wins and losses? In general, I expect Notre Dame to win the games we won last year, and lose the games we lost last year, without getting blown out. Because of our youth and inexperience I expect us to lose at least one game that we ought to win. We still won't be a Top 5 program, but the gap is shrinking fast and I expect to end the year sniffing the Top 10.
Tomorrow: Game by Game Expectations.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Proving many talent scouts, draft pundits, General Managers, and assorted asshats correct, Brady Quinn saw his first action as an NFL quarterback tonight, and failed to throw any 80-yard passes from his knees. Further vindicating his critics, who question his throwing accuracy, Quinn also did not complete 100% of his passes, completing only 13 of 20 passes (including three spikes to stop the clock) for 155 yards and two touchdowns. And of course, Quinn once again proved that he cannot single-handedly "win the big game" as he failed to bring the Browns all the way back from the 23-7 deficit they faced when he entered the game with only 9:20 remaining in the game - leaving Browns fans bitterly disappointed by a 23-20 home loss to the Detroit Lions.
As of this post OC Domer is still waiting to get JaMarcus Russell's final statistics from his undoubtedly spectacular game as quarterback of the Oakland Raiders.
Hopefully Brady will play better once he is named as the Browns' starting quarterback two weeks from now.
[ADDED 8/19: The Associated Press article I link to in this post says that BQ had three clock-stopping spikes. I have seen other reports (and read at some message boards) that there were actually four spikes. That'll teach me to rely on the mainstream media for my stats.]
[ALSO ADDED 8/19: The NFL Network is saying they are going to air the full Browns v. Lions game tonight at 8:00 pdt (that's 11:00 edt). Great news for the majority of us who couldn't watch the game last night.]
Friday, August 17, 2007
34 seems like a big number. 34 QBs in 43 seasons works out to just over one new quarterback starting every 1.25 seasons, or a new QB every 15 games or so (12-game modern schedule) or every 12 games or so (10-game older schedule). Since we know that an established starting quarterback will stay in the line-up for two, three, or even four years, that means a lot of short stints for the tweeners, the guys that fill in the gaps between QB eras. The 1971 season saw three different players make their first start at QB. They all won. Same thing in 2000 - three first time starters, three wins.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Stop everything else you are doing. If you care at all about the X's and O's of Notre Dame football, have your secretary hold your calls and go check out the latest post at Blue-Gray Sky. It is a ridiculously comprehensive look at Notre Dame's offense from a "personnel groups" perspective. If you've listened to Coach Weis in his press conferences, you've heard him talk about "personnel groups" and how he uses them to vary the offense. According to Coach Weis, his offense does not try to befuddle defenses by running an overwhelming number of different plays. Rather, it is his style to have a smaller list of plays, but run those plays with different personnel groups - thus giving the appearance to the defense of running a more varied attack. Michael's post at BGS explains (with pictures) what each personnel group looks like, and explains how Coach Weis has used each group over the past two seasons. He then offers some rational guesses on how often we might see each group used this year.
Michael's post is invaluable, and shows yet again why BGS is the gold standard among college football blogs (and not just Notre Dame blogs). By seeing what Coach Weis is talking about when he says "personnel groups" you can see how he tailors the offense to his personnel. If he has more talent/depth at WR, we'll see formations (personnel groups) that favor the WR. If, as last year, we lack top talent at FB or TE due to injuries, we'll see groups that feature other players. Michael speculates that this year's team is deeper at RB and TE, so we're likely to see formations that include two backs or two tight ends more often, and fewer sets with four or even five wide receivers.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Pardon the obscure "Hogan's Heroes" reference. But that's pretty much how I feel after watching the video highlights and reading the after-action reports posted around the web. Her Loyal Sons had what is, for me, the definitive review of the day's events:
I can’t get a handle on anything. Was there one shooter, or was there something going on at the grassy knoll? Either a few of the kickers were encouraging, or we’re in for the worst spell of kicking in the history of the program. Either the offense was dominating, or, oh yeah, there was no actual tackling in any of the scrimmage, so it’s impossible to tell.I left a pretty long comment to the HLS post, and I'll just put a slightly amplified version of it here.
Being in California, I obviously couldn't make it to the practice. But I did watch all the video posted at UND.com, and I have read all the reports. I don’t know if I can definitively say anything, except:
1. Armando Allen did look pretty darn good. Quick, and more importantly, decisive.
2. Hughes excited me. Very powerful, good speed.
3. From the video, Thomas, Allen and Hughes looked like our top three running backs. Aldridge seemed to get caught up in traffic more, and I didn't really notice Jabbie.4. Sharpley looked (to me) like the best QB. Most assured in the pocket, and on his throws. Jones has a live arm and moves well, but was inconsistent. I think Coach Weis is all about controlling the ball, moving the chains and not making turnovers. I agree with those who thought Clausen looked tentative on his throws. Is Charlie Weis playing the greatest game of sandbagging ever? (More on the quarterbacks at the end).
5. Zibby’s punt return “touchdown” was not a touchdown (a defender clearly put two hands on him early and would have likely tackled him if they were live).
6. It seemed to me that the line play was only going about 80% speed. Very little real smash-mouth going on. That, and the poor overall quality of the video posted at UND.com (too small, too grainy) makes it very difficult to evaluate line play. So I won't try.
7. Much has been made of the coaches requiring the defense to "run" a lap around the field when they lined up with only ten men on one play, as though the coaches were really cracking the whip. I was disappointed in how most of the guys dogged it on the lap. They pace was very slow, and many of the guys cut the corners in the end zones. I know the guys are fatigued after a week of camp, but maybe the reason USC and LSU run laps around us on game day is that we don't really "run" our laps at practice. Practice slow and play slow. Maybe I'm being unfair and too harsh, but that "lap" bothered me.All in all, it was way better than watching 20 minutes of stretching, but I still couldn’t help but feel that the open practice was more of a walk-through than a real dress rehearsal.
As for the quarterbacks. I saw nothing in yesterday's video that changed my mind from what I posted in late May:
I think Evan Sharpley gets first shot in the Fall, based upon his experience at running the offense. But he's on a short leash. If he doesn't "make plays" then Jones and Clausen will battle it out to see who can move the team the best - Clausen primarily with his arm, or Jones as a dual pass-run threat. At the end of the day, Coach Weis will go by what he sees on the field. Whichever QB moves the team best and makes the most plays will be the starter, regardless of "potential." At the end of the day, it might be the team that decides. Sometimes a team just responds better, plays better, for a particular quarterback. Which quarterback will most quickly earn the loyalty, respect, and confidence of his teammates?I still think Sharpley's the guy. If he shines, he'll remain the guy. If he falters or just isn't sparking the team, then Clausen or Jones will step in. Which of those two guys gets first shot after Sharpley will depend on a couple of factors: (1) How is the pass protection holding up? (2) How does Jimmy's arm feel? If the running game is being effective, and if the O-line is protecting the passer, then J.C. gets first shot off the bench if he's healthy, because all we'll really be in need of is a new trigger man. But if Sharpley is struggling because the offensive line is struggling and the receivers can't get open, then Jones will be needed to come in and make plays with his legs as well as him arm.
Don't sell Sharps short. He's a Division I athlete in two sports, football and baseball. His playing time in football has been limited, but he's been playing baseball against top collegiate competition. That ability to perform under pressure is key, although the Irish rarely draw 80,000 fans for a baseball game. He has the most time in the system, and he was good enough to send Zach Frazer packing.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
According to recent reports, Cleveland Browns Coach Romeo Crennel will flip a coin to decide on his starting quarterback for tonight's pre-season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. The bad news is that he will not be using a three-sided coin, thus Brady Quinn has no chance of winning the coin toss. The good news is that although Quinn is (at best) third on the depth chart after ending his short holdout this week, he appears to be chasing a starting job that is essentially vacant right now. With Crennel flipping a coin to decide between Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson, it seems that the Browns do not have a #1 quarterback, but instead have two #2 QBs, followed by Quinn at #3. Thus, Quinn does not have to climb from #3 to #1 to become the starter. He only has to climb from #3 to #2 to be on an even footing with Frye and Anderson. If he is able to pull even with those two players, you have to believe he'll get the nod as the starter given his status as the "franchise QB of the future" for the Browns.
So here's the question I have for you: Which quarterback will become the starter for his team first - Jimmy Clausen or Brady Quinn?
Bonus question: Which week?
Thursday, August 9, 2007
And we're back. Jet lagged and sore of foot, the OC Domer family has returned home safely after a busy week of playing tourist and looking at some colleges in the East that might be a good fit for the OC Daughter when she wraps up high school. The best way to organize this is just to "take it one day at a time." (That's an all-purpose cliche if there ever was one!) (All pictures in this post are clickable for much larger versions.)
Day1. Travel Day. Flew from LAX to JFK in NYC, landing after 12:30 a.m. Taxi into downtown Manhattan and checked into the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square for the bargain basement rate of $299 per night. Ouch. The only noteworthy thing about the travel day was that it went off glitch-free. Hotel actually was a good deal, relatively speaking, being so close to Times Square. Decent room, free wireless Internet, good air conditioning, comfortable beds.
Day 2. NYC. The family slept in a little, having arrived so late. Started the day with a long touristy walk. Down 42nd Street through Times Square to Fifth Avenue. Saw the New York Public Library, which had on display one of Thomas Jefferson's first handwritten drafts of the Declaration of Independence. Very cool. Checked out St. Patrick's Cathedral. Walked up Fifth to Rockefeller Center, had lunch there, checked out the NBC Studio store. My son loved the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company products and the Seinfeld stuff. After lunch continued up Fifth to FAO Schwarz toy store and then Central Park. Wandered through Central Park for a while, then took the subway to Columbia University.
We spent just a little time a Columbia. None of us (including our daughter) really cared for the urban campus as a place to go to school. But it was neat to see it. Then we found Tom's Restaurant so we could get a picture of the kids under the sign from the Seinfeld TV show. Hopped the subway back to our hotel, and cleaned up for the 7:00 p.m. performance of Wicked at the Gershwin Theater. Did I mention that it is just the slightest bit warm and humid in New York City in late July? Hot and sweaty we were. But we cleaned up nicely and headed out for the show, never thinking we ought to bring jackets. Wicked was a lot of fun. Clever story, well presented. Even our 13 year old son admitted that it was better than he thought it would be. But the air conditioning was brutal! All of us, but especially the OC Wife and the OC Daughter, were freezing throughout the entire show. After the show we ended up at the TGI Friday's on Times Square for a late dinner, then back to the hotel.
Day 3. More NYC. My son and I had to be up early because we were going to visit the Statue of Liberty and in the morning while my wife and daughter were going to do some shopping in SoHoTribeca.
It is with great sadness that I report that security forces in New York City have kidnapped the Statute of Liberty and are holding her hostage. The kidnappers' demands are unclear at this time, but no one is permitted to visit the hostage without first being subjected to a physically and emotionally intense security screening process, the main purposes of which seem to be (a) discouraging the citizenry from even trying to make contact with Lady Liberty, and (b) deterring those who persist from ever returning to Liberty Island once the ordeal is over. You think I jest? I had planned ahead and bought tickets on the first ferry boat in the morning to Liberty island, hoping to get in and out before the crowds and the lines became unbearable. This boat was scheduled to depart the dock at 8:45 a.m. Ticket holders were advised to arrive two hours before their scheduled departures, but only needed to arrive 45 minutes early if they were on the 8:45 boat.
My son and I got up early and hopped the subway train down to Battery Park. We arrived at about 7:40, where we took our place in the first line of the day, outside Castle Clinton waiting for the doors to open. The doors opened shortly after 8:00, and we proceeded to the will call window where we waited in line for just a few minutes to pick up our pre-purchased tickets. Then the fun began. We took our tickets and proceeded to the security screening line that we had to pass through before being allowed onto the boat. We waited in that line until at least 8:45 a.m. when they finally opened the doors to BEGIN screening passengers for the 8:45 boat. We worked our way through that line (removing belts, wallets, etc., but thankfully not shoes) and passed through the scanning machine at which time were were permitted to get onto the boat. We successfully boarded the first boat, which left the dock no earlier than 9:15, and zipped over to Liberty Island. Once at the Island, we quickly left the boat and headed straight for the tours of the museum and the base of the monument itself, which we were entitled to visit by virtue of holding one of the limited passes available only by advance booking. Those without the special passes had to be content enjoying the views of Miss Liberty while walking around the perimeter of the island, since they would not be permitted to the inner sanctum.
But hold on cowboy, where do you think you're going? Nobody goes on a tour without first going through security. Before being admitted to the statue and museum, we had to stand in another line awaiting yet another security screening. But, for some inexplicable reason, the security screening hadn't started yet. So we waited. And we waited. Finally, about 20 minutes later, after being told to get rid of our water bottles and our backpacks (lockers are available for a nominal fee!), we were admitted into the security screening tent (shade!), where we waited again for our turn to be admitted into the special room where the magical security machines are kept. After passing through these machines and putting our belts back on and all our stuff back into our pockets, we were permitted to actually walk into the base of the statute and join a tour, which would begin in ten minutes (at 10:00 a.m.). The tour consisted of a very short ranger talk and an escort into the museum. You wander through the museum, which leads to a stairwell taking you up 156 steps to the observation deck at the top of the statue's pedestal (not into the actual statue itself). Once you've observed all you want from the observation deck, you can head back down to the museum and/or visit the rest of the island. Wait! Did I say you could head back down to the museum? My mistake. What they don't tell you when you enter the museum is that it's a one-way ride. Once you head up the stairs to the observation deck, there is no returning to the museum - you instead have to exit the monument whether you want to or not. Had the kidnappers mentioned that little detail, we would have spent more time in the museum on the first pass rather than race up the stairs to see the view.
Hot and exhausted from our ordeal, my son and I limped back to the dock, where we waited in line for the first boat back to civilization. Depending on how you count, we had to stand on our feet in the hot sun in five different lines and endure two different airport-level security screenings over the course of course of approximately two hours before being admitted to the Statute of Liberty. And we had advance reservations on the FIRST boat of the day. Although we persisted in our dogged determination to visit the hostage personally, I must admit that we will think long and hard before ever undertaking such a foolish adventure again.
Free Lady Liberty! Loose her chains! Give her back to the People!
Once back in Manhattan, my son and I walked over the the World Trade Center to see the site, and then went to see Wall Street and the NYSE. I took his picture next to the big bull. We then hopped the subway to meet the wife and daughter for lunch. Flipping through one of our handy-dandy guide books, we decided that Katz's Deli would be perfect - supposedly the oldest deli in NYC. It was quite a hike down Houston Street, but when we got there it looked great. Lots of character and charm, an authentic New York experience for the kids. I ordered the roast beef sandwich. What they brought me appeared to be the still-beating heart of a recently slaughtered calf, on a bun, with blood dripping out of it and pooling all over my plate. Eventually I got the waiter's attention and explained that the "roast" beef was a little rare for my taste. He happily swapped it out for some hot dogs at no charge. Once lunch was over we all decided that our feet had seen enough sidewalk for one day, so we cabbed it back to the hotel to rest up for a bit and get ready for the Yankees game.
Hot and sweaty is one thing. But hot, sweaty, and trapped below ground aboard the #4 train heading for Yankee Stadium is another thing entirely. It was a mob scene boarding the train at Grand Central and it's really surprising nobody got hurt. Or more accurately, that more people weren't hurt. The train could charitably be described as "standing room only" once we jammed ourselves onto it. I don't know what you would call it after more people miraculously squeezed their way on at each successive stop. It was tight, and hot, and tense. My wife was especially miserable since she tends toward a little claustrophobia anyway. Finally we arrived at the stadium. The crowd was excited because A-Rod was sitting on 499 homers and everyone was hoping to see #500. I sent the wife and kids to the seats, while I went for drinks and snacks. I was about fifth in line at the concession stand, and only had to wait two innings to get my bottles of water, Diet Cokes, peanuts and Cracker Jack. Two freakin' innings. Slowest concession workers on the planet. I was sure A-Rod would hit #500 while I waited in line as the lady puzzled through the difficult task of retrieving a hot dog for the guy in front of me.
Yankee Stadium is impressive because it is big, and because I know some of it's history. But as a place to go see a ballgame it has little to recommend it. It's old and outdated. "Dump" may be too harsh, but not by much. We were sitting just above and beyond the top of the left field foul pole. It was hot and sticky, and the insects swarming around the stadium lights above our heads would occasionally buzz us. We had no problems with any of the fans, but then I wasn't wearing my Angels' cap either. For all the tradition and class that is the Yankees' legacy, I chuckled at the fact that they have all the same cheesy entertainment and promotions at Yankee Stadium as anywhere else. The animated "freeway car race" of Anaheim Stadium is replaced by a "subway train race", but the rest is the same. I was hoping to see monument park, but that closes down two hours before the game. I wanted to see the old Yankee Stadium before they tore it down. Mission accomplished, we stayed through four A-Rod at-bats, then left in the seventh inning to avoid a repeat of the subway scene we faced on the way to the game.
Day 4. Princeton and Lehigh. We left NYC early in the morning, taking a NJ Transit commuter train (cheap!) from Penn Station to the Metropark station in Iselin, New Jersey. We picked up a rental car and drove down to Princeton to catch the 9:45 campus tour. We were visiting Princeton mostly because I had heard so many glowing things about it that I just had to see it, even though it is just about the toughest school in the country to get into. The campus is just gorgeous! It reminds me very much of a certain University in Northwestern Indiana. In fact, the resemblance is so striking that I couldn't help but wonder if Princeton's campus didn't serve as some of the inspiration for the designers and architects of Notre Dame's campus. The small town adjacent to campus is also very quaint. The whole package was very impressive. If Princeton had a better football team it would be perfect. The tour itself was pretty standard fare. I had to laugh because our student guide used the word "amazing" about a thousand times during our hour together. She needs to buy some more adjectives. Princeton's commitment to undergraduate teaching and education is impressive. Certainly if you have student who can get into Princeton you'd have to think long and hard before deciding not to enroll there.
After lunch at a pizza joint across from campus, we hopped into our rented Dodge Charger (big trunk) and drove to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where we planned to attend a 2:30 information session followed by a campus tour. I don't know exactly what we expected from Lehigh, but our expectations were exceeded. Bethlehem is regarded as a great small city to live in. The University sits on a hillside just above the city. The campus is green and lush with lots of grass and mature trees. The architecture is similar to Notre Dame's in style and color. Of the schools we visited, Lehigh's information session was by far the best. From it we got a real sense of Lehigh's philosophy of undergraduate education, the programs it offers, and why they consider themselves to be an excellent blend of University resources with a small college feel. The campus tour was pretty normal, except that we got to see a dormitory and the main dining hall on campus. Boring? I think not. I was very surprised that most of the tours we took did not include a look at a typical dorm and dining hall. As a parent (or prospective student) I care much more about where my child is going to live and have dinner than I do about the new physics lab. Yet all the tours typically include (a) historic campus buildings (administration building and possibly a church), (b) library, (c) classroom, (d) student center, and (e) fancy new departmental building endowed by generous alumni. All in all, I think we came away feeling like Lehigh would be a very nice place to go to school if "Plan A" doesn't work out. While it wasn't #1 on the list of any of our family members, I think several of us had it as #2. After finishing up at Lehigh, we drove to Lewisburg, PA where we spent the night in anticipation of seeing Bucknell University in the morning.
Day 5. Bucknell and Cornell. It was a very short drive from the Country Cupboard Inn to the campus of Bucknell University, where we had made a reservation to attend the 9:00 information session (followed by campus tour). Interesting that Bucknell was the only school that required a reservation for the info session. When I called to make the reservation, they asked for my daughter's name and other information. Then they mailed us a reserved parking pass and mailed my daughter a nice letter and some Bucknell pamphlets. They also asked her to send back an information card so they could keep in touch with her. Since my daughter is just a junior in high school and only beginning the college search process, she was impressed by the personal attention. The information session was okay. More anecdotal, less organized than Lehigh's, but most of the information came through anyway. Bucknell's campus is beautiful. It is all red brick and white trim and seems to me that it ought to be in Virginia or Georgia. The tour of Bucknell, like Lehigh's, included a dorm and dining hall. Overall impression was that Lehigh and Bucknell are very similar. They differ in architectural style. Bucknell's facilities seemed to be a bit newer than Lehigh's. The dorms there have air conditioning, while Lehigh's don't. Bucknell is definitely smaller (and feels smaller) than Lehigh. Lewisburg also feels a little farther off the beaten track than Bethlehem. Although Bucknell felt a bit too small for my wife and I, it was the favorite school of our son (age 13), who asked questions on the tour and happily bought a Bucknell lacrosse t-shirt at the bookstore. We bought some sandwiches in the cafeteria and headed North for Ithaca, where we hoped to catch the 3:00 tour at Cornell University.
The drive to Ithaca was beautiful, and we were treated to some dramatic electrical storms off in the distance as we approached the town. Of course, once we arrived in the town we found ourselves in the middle of those thunderstorms. Added to the storms was the fact that Ithaca is a horrible town to drive in. Lots of curvy streets without any road signs to navigate by. So we got a little lost before finally finding Cornell. The huge parking garage that we had to park in was our first clue that Cornell is much bigger than the other schools we had visited. As with finding the campus, navigating from the garage to the tour site in the rain was also a challenge and we arrived there pretty well soaked, barely on time, and out of breath. Quite a start. I think both my wife and I felt that it was not a good start and could only portend an equally disappointing tour. But the rain stopped just as our tour group stepped outside, and our daughter loved Cornell. It was her favorite school of the trip. The campus is beautiful, perched high on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake. Traditional Ivy-league architecture. I think my wife and I both felt that Cornell is too big for us, but our daughter loved it and at the end of the day what we want for her is that she go to an excellent school that she loves. If she can get into an Ivy-league school and wants to go there, it would be hard for us to object.
After the tour, we had dinner at a student hangout near campus, then drove to our hotel in Ithaca (which took too long to find) and actually did laundry that night. The heat and humidity of the East had us going through clothing much more rapidly than we do while at home.
Day 6. To Boston. This was a long day on the road. Drove from Ithaca back to Iselin, New Jersey to return the rental car and hopped the Amtrak train to Boston. It was a four hour drive followed by a five hour train ride, but the five hour train ride was much better than a five hour flight. Train time seems to pass more quickly than plane time. More room to move around, more to see out the windows. Actually very relaxing, although the ride is just bumpy enough that you can't really work on the computer very well. Arrived in Boston's South Station at 7:30 p.m., and checked into the Doubletree Hotel on Washington Street, just a few blocks from Boston Common. Took an evening stroll down Washington Street to Faneuil Hall, where we had a late dinner at Durgin-Park. My wife had never been to Boston and absolutely fell in love with it.
Day 7. Freedom Trail. This was our sightseeing day in Beantown, and the Freedom Trail was the main attraction. We started at Boston Common and walked the entire thing, including a stop at Faneuil Hall for lunch and just a little shopping. The Trail ends at the Bunker Hill Monument, where we climbed 294 steps (whew!) all the way to the top for some great views of the city. Once again hot, sweaty and tired we took a cab back to the hotel and ordered some pizza.
You can't help but compare Boston to New York. NYC is superlative in every way. Bigger, glitzier, grittier, faster, more expensive. It's an exciting city to visit and there is so much to see and do. But it wears on you. Boston comes at a much more manageable scale and pace. It wears better. Boston felt more comfortable to us, easier to really enjoy. It feels a lot like San Francisco, minus most of the weirdos. It is also very interesting to note the differences in visiting the historical sites. I wrote at length, above, about how difficult it is to see the Statute of Liberty. On the Freedom Trail we walked right into the Old State House, the Old South Meeting House, the Old North Church, and the Bunker Hill Monument with almost no wait at any of them, and no security screenings either. It made for a much more enjoyable day.
Day 8. Plymouth and the Vineyard. On this day we rented a car and drove down to Plymouth to see the Mayflower II, Plymouth Rock, and the Plimoth Plantation. Plymouth itself was a very pleasant surprise. It was a very "cute" seaside village with gorgeous homes and a very attractive downtown. Of the attractions, we all liked the Mayflower the best. It was very fun to see an authentic re-creation of such an old (and sturdy) ship. There were costumed characters on board who told about life on the journey and in New England at the time. Very fun. The Rock was pretty much just a rock, but it was still neat to see it. Plimoth Plantation was a bit underwhelming. We didn't spend very long there. Good to see it, but I think we expected to see more activity in the English village, and in reality it was almost deserted. And hot.
We then drove down to Woods Hole on Cape Cod to catch the Steamship Authority ferry over to Martha's Vineyard. We got all the way down to Woods Hole to where the ferry departs, only to find that Woods Hole is very, very small and there is absolutely no parking available there. This was a problem because we planned to walk onto the ferry rather than take our car over. Eventually I was told I needed to drive four miles back the way I had come to the Steamship Authority parking lot. Once I got there, I was told the lot was full and was directed to yet another lot over 2 miles farther back up the road. Before it was all said and done I had to park nearly seven miles from the ferry launch itself. It would have been nice if the glossy ferry brochures had mentioned that little factoid. Fortunately, there were plenty of shuttle buses available and we made it onto the next ferry without incident.
The ferry ride over was windy, and the sky was becoming overcast. We had all brought our swimsuits in the hopes of taking a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, but it was beginning to look like the weather might not cooperate. The ferry dropped us in Oak Bluffs. We strolled around there for a bit, and had a nice lunch. Then we took the VTA bus to Vineyard Haven to see what it looked like. Moments after getting off the bus, the sky opened up and we were hit with a serious thunderstorm. We took shelter on the porch of the ferry building and enjoyed the thunder, lightning, and heavy rain - hoping it would blow over soon. After about twenty minutes there was no sign it was going to let up, so we took the bus back to Oak Bluffs and caught the next ferry back to Woods Hole. All in all, we weren't real impressed with Martha's Vineyard. Some quaint houses to take pictures of and a nice nautical feel. But we were there on a Monday afternoon and it was still crowded with too many tourists, and Oak Bluffs had a tacky tourist-trap feel to it. I'm sure it's a terrific place to relax if you're staying at a nice home on one of the secluded beaches, or in one of the nice resorts. But until I get that invitation I don't see any reason to go back. We drove back to Boston, stopping in Plymouth for dinner along the way.
Day 9. BC and Fenway. This was the last day of our trip. The big item on the agenda was to be the 10:30 "Eagle Eye" information session followed by the campus tour. We took the "T" from Boston Common out to the Boston College Campus. The "T" is nice, but it seems to stop every 50 feet, so it took a lot longer than expected to get out to BC. The line ends at BC and we hopped off and found our way onto campus and to the information session. Boston College was a little bit of a disappointment. I really expected it to have much more of a Notre Dame look and feel than it did. Parts of the campus are beautiful, but the campus has a disjointed feel. It doesn't all fit together nicely, and the architecture is more of a mixture than other schools we looked at. Most freshman live on a separate "campus" that is a mile-and-a-half shuttle ride away from the main campus. From the tour and info session, Boston College ends up feeling more "big school" than it needs to. Students have to apply for admission to specific colleges. Taking classes outside your major or transferring between colleges is a hassle. They kick juniors off campus for housing, then let them back on as seniors. It just felt more like a big state school than it's 9,000 undergrads seemed to warrant. Of course, no dorms or dining halls on the tour. We were really hoping that BC would knock our socks off. It's a Jesuit school of about the right size, located in a great city, with many of the elements we are looking for. But it ended up falling flat.
After visiting BC we had a few hours before we needed to go to the airport, so we took the "T" over toward Fenway Park and took a tour. The tour wasn't that great (no press box, no club house, no dugout, no trip to the field) but we still had a lot of fun. The highlight was visiting the top of the Green Monster. I had always wanted to see Fenway and I wasn't at all disappointed. Unlike Yankee Stadium, Fenway really does have some charm to it apart from it's history.
After the tour we took a taxi back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and headed for the airport. After a short delay, we were on our way home, pulling into our own driveway a little after midnight. Thankfully I had already called my boss and asked for an additional day off to recover from the trip, because I was beat!
Conclusion. What a great trip! We got to see and do so much. My son had never been to NYC. I was the only one who had ever been to Boston (very briefly). And we got to see some very good colleges. The whole purpose of the trip had been to (hopefully) open my daughter's mind to the possibility that there are great colleges out there for her besides Notre Dame, in case "Plan A" falls through. I believe we accomplished that. She very much liked most of the schools we saw, and was very favorably impressed by Cornell. Now, when we look at schools she will be able to do so with an open mind and hopefully find several that she would be very happy attending. Of course, we still have ahead of us the challenge of finding the best "Plan B" school for her. Princeton and Cornell, being even harder to get into than Notre Dame, don't really answer the call as "Plan B" choices. A surprise bonus was how interested our son was in the college visits. We thought he would be tortured by being dragged on all these tours, but he was very much into it, and we hope he will be motivated to really excel in school with the goal of getting into a great college himself.
I know this has been the longest post in the history of the OC Domer, and it is way off-topic. God bless you if you read the whole thing. But I had a lot of thoughts swirling in my head, and I had to do something with them. I now return you to your regularly scheduled season of Fighting Irish football ....